Trigger warning: This story contains mentions of abuse and suicide.
When asked to share my story with others, I had reservations. I didn’t want to draw any attention to myself. But if sharing my testimony saves even one human or mustang life, it will be worth it.
I am fast approaching 52 years old, but as a little girl, I was the daughter of an alcoholic dairy farmer helper. I always admired the horses on the farms surrounding my house, but I was constantly told I was too poor to ever have horses. I put my dreams aside on went on with my life. Though I was raised in a dysfunctional, abusive household, I survived childhood, and when I turned 18, I immediately joined the US Navy.
I served my country proudly–sometimes through difficult and dangerous situations—then came home and raised my son as a single mother. I sometimes had to hold down two or three jobs at a time. I knew I had some PTSD, depression, and anxiety, but I had to keep myself together to be the best mother I could be. I wanted to be the mother I wished I had growing up.
In 2009, my 38-year-old brother—who was also my best friend—died suddenly. In 2010, my son moved away to pursue a job opportunity. The loss of my brother and my son’s departure became the catalyst for the downward spiral that I had been avoiding for years. I began to self-medicate with alcohol. I knew this was problematic behavior and went from doctor to doctor and therapist to therapist looking for solutions. At one of these appointments, it was suggested I try something I’d wanted to do ever since I was a young girl: ride horses.
So at the age of 40, I took an hour-long riding lesson. That one lesson lit the match under my long-dormant passion, and I started riding in earnest and looking into horse ownership. I was particularly interested in adopting a mustang.
In 2015, I experienced another life-changing event when my cousin and her daughter drowned while kayaking. I decided life was too short to not follow my dreams. I wanted not only to own a horse but to create a safe haven for mustangs and veterans.
In September 2015, I found the farm of my dreams in Virginia. My husband and I took a giant leap of faith and signed the closing contract. I had $17 left in my checking account when all was said and done. I moved on to my farm with no name in November.
Around that time, I happened to be picking up a mustang as a favor for a friend. At the pickup point, I found myself in a corral full of 60 yearlings. There, a little filly found me, and she more or less followed me right into the stock trailer I was driving.
I brought her home having zero experience with unhandled mustangs—a scenario that doesn’t always have happy endings. That’s not the case here. Cecilia has been with me for more than seven years, and it’s been my privilege to gentle her, start her, and teach her about having a relationship with humans. Today, she’s a steady mount, loves trail, and is ridden by myself and the other veterans here at the farm.
As much as I’ve taught Cecilia, she’s taught me ten-fold. She’s taught me honesty, integrity, and confidence in a way that only a once-wild mustang can. I have a learning disability and often struggle with simple tasks. It’s as if Cecilia knows; she’s endlessly patient with me. At one point in my life, my PTSD, depression, and anxiety were so bad I could hardly get out of bed, let alone go out and about.
I was suicidal. I just wanted the flashbacks and pain to go away. I had a letter written and was ready to pull the literal trigger‚ then I happened to look over into the pasture and see Cecilia. Who would take care of her when I was gone? That thought stopped me in my tracks, and I dropped to my knees, then immediately went to love on my mustang mare.
I spent a lot of time with Cecilia releasing my tears, fears, and pain. She provided me with the strength to go on when I thought I couldn’t. The emotional support a wild mustang can provide is like no other. There are truly no words to describe the therapeutic effect wild mustangs have on me.
On July 1, 2016, New Freedom Farm officially became a 501c3. Every day, I share my love of mustangs with fellow veterans. Sadly, in our country, 22 veterans, one active-duty member, and five first responders take their own lives every day. I just hope I can make a difference one human at a time.
If I can be of help, the easiest way to reach me is via text at 540-855-1158 or my email is [email protected]
We are located two miles off I-81 exit 162 in Virginia. If anyone ever wants or needs to stop, the gate is always open. We always have room for humans and horses.
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