There’s nothing better than seeing a veteran and their family being treated with the respect, courtesy and tenderness they’ve earned and so richly deserve for their service to our country. That’s exactly what’s happening on Friday evenings this summer at the Tarleton Equine Center thanks to the efforts of some caring, dedicated people like Dr. David Snyder, professor and director of TREAT, and Mike and Pat Stewart and Art and Pat Stanley of WET Vets.
They’re seeing to it that vets and their families aren’t being forgotten or lost in the shuffle after giving so much back to the rest of us. By providing horseback therapy to anyone from the group who wants it, including people who are slightly, moderately, or even severely disabled, they’re delivering the best kind of joy and love to people who can use it the most.
So what is horseback therapy? TREAT stands for TaRelton Equine Assisted Theraputic Riding and if you’ve been around Stephenville for long, you may be familiar with the outreach it provides to approximately 35 local kids from Foster’s Home for Children.
In addition to Dr. Snyder, the program functions under the guidance of other members of a research team from TSU including Dr. Susan Rugari from nursing, as well as Drs. Julie Merriman and Allison Stewart from counseling and psychology.
“When we surveyed the area, we found that literally thousands of people from our community could be served through this program," Snyder said. "And now we have the funds to put on an additional full-time person to facilitate that, so we’re very excited. The people at WET Vets have been great to work with and we’re finally getting to see this happen here.”
The dedication of Dr. Snyder, Shelby Thiebaud, Tanya King and a team of volunteers is palpable and downright awe inspiring. Perhaps one of the most moving examples of that during the inaugural event was seeing those folks assist disabled veteran Jim Cromwell and his daughter Natalie take their first ride together. Natalie, who had never been on horseback before, was all smiles as was Jim.
“My older sister and I rode all the time when I was a kid and to be able to ride again feels really great,” Cromwell said.
He added that he’d been active all his life, but because of his physical challenges such as neuropathy that causes weakness and stiffness of the muscles in his back, feet and legs he didn’t think he could ever get on a horse again. But the Equine Center is equipped with a special lift device that makes the seemingly-impossible possible and with the help of Dr. Snyder and his crew, Jim and another disabled vet, Dick Dowd, were able to saddle up.
By the way, you may be wondering where the term “WET Vets” comes from. Pat Stewart is the swimming coordinator of the Hood County YMCA pool, where members of WET Vets, a non-profit 501C3 organization, regularly swim for free. But because of occasional scheduling conflicts with other groups that need to use the facility such as the Special Olympics, they had been looking for alternative kinds of therapeutic activities for their members when the pool isn’t available.
“This program fit that need perfectly,” said Mike Stewart, “and we can’t thank Dr. Snyder, his staff, the volunteers and Tarleton enough for making this available to us. We hope to see as many vets out here through the summer as possible.”
The program - which is free to vets and their families - will be held all summer at 4:30 on Fridays at the Tarleton Equine Center. Dr. Snyder says, “There’s no set shutdown time for these rides. We’ll be out here as long as somebody wants to ride.”
To get there, head out of Stephenville toward Hwy. 281 on Lingleville Rd, and turn left on College Farm Road. The center is about one-half mile down on the right.
For more information, call Dr. Snyder at 254-968-9656 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To get in touch with WET Vets, it’s www.WetVets.org.