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Yee Haw! Veterans Trade Driving Tanks for Riding Horses
Ranch owner Penny Weiss enjoys a moment with one of the veterans.
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Monday, May 29, 2023


It may not have been the Calgary Stampede. But the seven cowboys and cowgirls holding the American flags at Higher Ground’s Military Camp this weekend were bursting with as much pride as the cowboys on the bigger stage.

A couple of those taking part in the week-long military camp at River Sage Stables south of Bellevue had never been on a horse before. But they brimmed with confidence as they cut cows, raced around barrels and galloped around the arena during a Memorial Day Weekend rodeo for a small crowd of cheering onlookers.

Participants came from as far away as Virginia Beach and as close as Texas to take part in the camp that Higher Ground holds each year for veterans dealing with PTSD and physical challenges. They represented various branches of military service. And they had served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Veterans developed a bond with their horses as the week progressed.

“As cowboys, Lord, we don’t ask for any special favors. We ask only that you will let us compete in this arena as in the arena of life,” intoned the emcee as he recited the Cowboy’s Prayer. “We ask only that you help us compete in this rodeo as the rodeo of life.”

One man from Virginia Beach said he had enjoyed the camp but was amazed by how far the Wood River Valley was from anything.

Another, who had served for eight years in Afghanistan, expressed deep gratitude for the camp, which included group therapy and yoga.

“For a really long time I’ve been trying to heal and this has given me so much. I have gratitude to everyone here for giving me the opportunity to heal. Without programs like this, I don’t think a lot of people would be here today,” she said as the horses snorted their approval.

Veterans worked in twos to move cattle from one arena to another.

Penny Weiss, who owns River Sage Stables with her husband Richard, had the last word as she handed out commemorative belt buckles and bracelets.

“You were all champs before you got here,” she said. “Now, you’re rodeo champs.”

Veterans were awarded some colorful belt buckles upon graduation.

There was even a bit of barrel racing.

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