Program Introduces Veterans to Healing Horses


Text under the heading, “Article Excerpt” was written by Natalie June for the Elburn Herald. The photograph in this post was submitted by Jerry Paulsen to June.

Article Excerpt

Picture by
Picture Submitted by Jerry Paulsen

MAPLE PARK, IL — Eight veterans and their spouse or caregiver, traveled from all over the nation to Maple Park to participate in the pilot program for Boots and Hooves, Inc., a local not-for-profit organization. The five-day program, held at Promise Equestrian Center, focuses on helping soldiers and their spouse or caregiver overcome problems resulting from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and other emotional issues.

The program cost is $4,000 per person, and veterans or wounded warriors are encouraged to bring their spouse or caregiver. Any active duty service member, veteran, or wounded soldier from any branch and any time period are welcomed to sign up for a session.

The four co-founders of Boots and Hooves are Matt Ruddick, Gary Kempiak, Dan Nagel and Jerry Paulsen. Jerry Paulsen – President and a U.S. Army veteran – is passionate about helping veterans receive healing from the pain they are experiencing.

“I have been involved in numerous programs around the country that have helped many of our veterans and wounded warriors,” Paulsen said. “As far as I know, we are the only program in the nation that lasts five days and also includes the spouses or caregivers. Veterans will gain freedom from their past, and Equine Assisted Therapy provides an alternative to taking medication to cope with their problems.”

Veterans and their spouses or caregivers experience the healing power of horses through barn chores, team projects that include working with horses and other veterans, and counseling sessions with a licensed clinician. In their counseling sessions, veterans relate the obstacles they encounter with the horses to problems in their everyday lives.

One of the team projects that the veterans work on includes helping a horse through a lengthy obstacle course with no mistakes. Each veteran selects one of the many strings or rope available and attaches it to the horse. The team members then work to guide the horse with only the string in their hand to help them. If they end up making a mistake, they have to return to the beginning of the obstacle course. This project helps the veterans overcome obstacles and find answers to a problem that at first appears to have no solution, according to Paulsen.

“Boots and Hooves is an awesome program for combat veterans with PTSD, and their families,” said Jack Erwin, volunteer for Boots and Hooves, Inc. “People are naturally a little fearful of horses at first, but with training and exposure, they have to face their fears. This relates directly to facing their PTSD experiences. They (veterans) are also given an opportunity to bond spiritually and emotionally with the horses and with each other. There are After Action Reviews to reflect on the team-building activities in a symbolic way.”

Any veterans interested in these sessions or businesses looking to sponsor different items for the program can contact Paulsen at (847) 529-5200 or

“Walt Disney created his Magic Kingdom, but we created a magic ranch for veterans,” Paulsen said.


Click here to read a Beyond Injury post about a wounded warrior’s story of success.

Click here to read the complete article by June.

Thanks to Natalie June ( for writing the article; Elburn Herald for committing its resources to publish June’s article; Jerry Paulsen for submitting the picture used in this post; Boots and Hooves for providing its services; Promise Equestrian Center for providing the space; Google for helping me find the article; and all the other people who, directly or indirectly, made it possible for me to include the picture and text I used in this post.


  1. I served in the USAF, and when I returned home the first thing I wanted to do was see my horse…..there is jut something so special about horses. Like dogs they love you unconditionally…. I would spend hours just brushing and talking to my Joe….he just seemed to make all my troubles go away…you guys are do an awesome thing, keep up the good work….and God bless to the veterans & the horses…..

    1. Lorie,

      Thank you for serving our country. I am happy to hear that you and your horse have been reunited. Although I have not participated in horse therapy, I have spent enough time with horses to know they can certainly make worries, frustrations, and concerns disappear. Welcome home.

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