Wisconsin Group That Pairs Horses With Veterans for Therapy Will March in Inaugural Parade
I hope the horses from AT EASE being in the Inaugural Parade will help President Obama remember the promises he made to protect our horses. ~Declan
Wisconsin group that pairs horses with veterans for therapy will march in Inaugural Parade
JOHN HART — State Journal
Paulette Stelpflug, co-founder of the AT EASE horse therapy program for veterans, and Lt. Col. Jeff Alston of the Wisconsin National Guard's 1st Battalion, 105th Cavalry Squadron, prepare the mount of a new American flag on Misty, one of three horses being ridden by the program's volunteers Monday at the Presidential Inaugural Parade in Washington.
DEERFIELD — Misty was not that eager to show off her new shoes Wednesday, what with all the fuss of packing tack boxes and counting bridles. But with a little help she lifted a front hoof.
After brushing away the sawdust and mud, a shiny curl of iron was revealed, and on the corners of that shoe were dollops of tungsten carbide, all the better to keep from slipping when she trots up to the White House Monday afternoon.
In spirit, the horse's reins will be lightly held by the disabled American veterans of Wisconsin. In reality, Misty is one of three horses being guided by a sizable and growing contingent of volunteers and supporters.
As the state's only entry in the 2.5-mile Presidential Inaugural Parade, horses Misty, Zippy and Chavez and their riders Paulette Stelpflug, Patty Roelofs and Stacy Lindbo represent AT EASE, a unique form of therapy that matches horse with veteran.
AT EASE (which stands for A Therapeutic Equine-Assisted Self-confidence Experience) was started in 2010 by Teddy Schluter, owner of Freedom Stables, and Stelpflug, his partner in Harmony Horsemanship, a sprawling property between Deerfield and Cottage Grove. Schluter is a disabled Vietnam War veteran.
Schluter kept in the background these past weeks as Stelpflug and their nonprofit group hustled to raise money and the attendant local media coverage.
Applying to join the parade was a sort of "whim" at the end of the summer, Stelpflug said. They were not really expecting to be accepted but hoped that the young program that has already served hundreds of vets might get some recognition.
Not only was the group among the first accepted, it had only a month to prepare. With help from friends such as the Lighthorse Cavalry Association of Wisconsin and numerous others, by Thursday morning the horses and riders and handlers were outfitted and on the road.
The cavalry association is a support group of the Wisconsin Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 105th Cavalry Squadron, which has been a perfect match for AT EASE, said Lt. Col. Jeff Alston, of Madison. Being "adopted" by the cavalry was a natural, of course, and the program, which provides therapy at no charge to wounded and disabled veterans, "was something we want to help promote."
Roelofs has been riding horses for decades and said her volunteer work with for AT EASE has validated her longtime appreciation of a horse's benefit to a person's mental health.
"You don't like to anthropomorphize, but when you see that communication between the horse and a disabled vet, you know that horse is saying 'I'm going to be here for you,'" said Roelofs. The effects of a horse's "large, gentle, warm body and soft breath and accepting presence" are soothing and smoothing, she said.
"This is therapy for the horse, too," she added.
Dennis Landen, a Vietnam War veteran from Lake Mills who has no background with horses, said AT EASE was a "miracle" for him.
"It was a perfect fit," he said. "I just go up there and pet them, and groom them, and just be near them. It mellows you, it keeps you calm."
"What I like is that any veteran who wants can come out there and do the same dang thing. There's no charge, and no red tape," he said.
Walking with the AT EASE banner in the parade will be Bill and Liz O'Donnell from the Columbus American Legion Post 62, and Judy Wolff, of Madison. Terry Virgil, another veteran therapy recipient, is the groomsman. The three riders will carry an American flag, a Wisconsin flag and the colors and flag of the Lighthorse Cavalry Association of Wisconsin.
Stelpflug said the recognition is nice, but most important is what the group's parade appearance will do for the program and disabled veterans. For the moment, for example, the stables are not handicapped accessible, "but we didn't want that to be a reason for us not doing anything," she said.
Parade participation "brings AT EASE out front and more veterans will be aware of the program," she said. "We must be doing something good if we are good enough for the president."