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Veterans Find Therapeutic Power While Riding at Lava Lake Ranch
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Saturday, September 16, 2023
 

STORY BY KATE DALY

PHOTOS BY PHOEBE BEAN

As summer fades into fall, memories still feel crisp for one group of veterans who experienced the ride of their lifetime at Lava Lake Ranch located about 45 miles east of Hailey in the Pioneer Mountains.

This summer Brian and Kathleen Bean hosted seven veterans, one spouse, a support dog named Bella and three recreation therapists as part of the Lava Lake Injured Veterans Equine Program (LIVE).  The Beans founded it more than 10 years ago to provide therapy for those dealing with traumatic brain injury, PTSD and other challenges.

This summer the whole family pitched in.  Daughter Fiona was the lead wrangler, and her sister Phoebe took pictures and video, while Brian rode with the group and Kathleen helped with meals.

“It’s our favorite thing that we do all year,” said Kathleen Bean, exclaiming how they are more than happy to share the place that they love so much with people who might not be able to experience such a treat, otherwise.

Brian Bean served as a Marine and finds it a natural fit to support fellow veterans by combining equine therapy with the healing power of nature in the wilderness.

“If they like to ride, they’ll see amazing therapeutic benefits,” he said.

This summer one veteran in particular stood out for his super positive attitude.  He has a prosthesis on one leg and told his host, “My motto is to keep moving.” And that’s what the vet did, going on every single ride and, in the end, covering about 54 miles of trails.

The Beans usually take in two groups each year--one from the Boise area and another from the San Francisco Bay area.  The Californians drove in and set up base camp at the main ranch using tents, and sleeping bags supplied by Mystic Saddle Ranch.  The outfitter, which operates out of Redfish Lake in the summer and Arizona in the winter, also provided the group with horses and tack.

The first day the veterans are matched with horses. They groom and tack them up to go on a short ride, during which they get used to their mounts.

Everyone arrives with prior experience.  In this case, all of the veterans had spent a couple of months this spring riding at a local barn to jumpstart their skill set.  Under the guidance of Andy Duprey, a recreation therapist with the Polytrauma Network Site part of the Veterans Administration Palo Alto Health Care System,  the veterans learned how to catch a horse, groom, tack up, walk and trot.  But riding in the backcountry at Lava Lake Ranch elevates horsemanship to another level, literally.

“It’s all very wild--they’re crossing streams, going over mountains,” said Kathleen Bean. “Fortunately, the weather this time around was gorgeous with just a little bit of rain.”

There’s a lot of land to cover and plenty of wildlife encounters.  More than 17,000 acres of Lava Lake Ranch are protected by a conservation easement and sheep and cattle graze on over 60,000 acres of certified organic pasture and rangelands. 

“Everybody got more comfortable as the week went on.  They really got to know each other well, and did an amazing job,” Kathleen Bean said. 

At night around the camp fire participants bonded even more, telling stories, singing songs and playing cards.  At the end of each day the veterans set goals, such as mounting their steads unassisted.

On the last night, the Spirit of Lava Lake Award went to the husband and wife “for being kind to everyone and giving it their all.”

The veteran was injured serving in the military and has some mobility issues, but  he shone in the saddle as his trust in the horse grew, building upon his former rodeo days in Wyoming. 

His wife accompanied him during the training sessions to gain her own confidence on horseback so they could enjoy the trip together.

The Beans underwrite everything except the travel portion of LIVE. They raise money from donors to help keep the program going.  For more information go to: https://www.lavalakeinstitute.org.

 

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