Retreat uses horses to help Veterans

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Nancy Burch (Photos by Ellen Miller-Goins)

By Ellen Miller-Goins

Soft raindrops fall as Roadrunner Tours owner/operator Nancy Burch finishes demonstrating how working with a horse’s body language can create a bond of trust between the horse and its trainer as a military veterans, with their spouses and significant others, look on Monday (Oct. 19) at Roadrunner Tours stables in Angel Fire.

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Lupton, Arizon, resident TyAnn Nakai, a Veteran of both the Air Force and Marines, brushes – and bonds with – her horse.
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TyAnn Nakai
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Black Mesa, Arizona, resident and Marine Corp Veteran Jordan Becenti is attending the National Veterans Wellness and Healing retreat with TyAnn NaKai.

As she finishes her talk, the group scatters — some to get ready to ride horseback, some to take a sleigh ride. A few practice bonding with their horses, brushing and caressing the gentle animals before mounting up.

They are joined by counselors, staff and volunteers with The National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center in Angel Fire for the penultimate fall retreat taking place Oct. 18-25, 2015. A final fall retreat is planned Oct. 28-Nov. 3, 2015.

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Veteran Harry Patterson of Black Lake and Wichita Falls, Texas, volunteers at the retreats.

Harry Patterson, a denizen of Angel Fire and Wichita Falls, Texas, who dressed every bit the part of a Western icon waits on horseback for the group to get ready. A volunteer in Angel Fire for “about five years,” and also for wellness programs for Veterans in Texas, Patterson says, “I’m just here to help out and tell a few stories.”

A Veteran himself, Patterson says, “I like to talk about the trouble we have, but also to talk about what we can do about our troubles. It’s mostly centered around Proverbs 23:7, ‘As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.’ If you can change the way you think, you can change the way you act.”

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Counselor Lara Kolesar (left) works with couples. Genneveve Alarid (right) of Pino Altos, New Mexico, is attending the retreat with her dad Peter.

Lara Kolesar, a Boulder, Colorado-based counselor says she offers couples coaching based on “the language of the heart. I help them find more heart-centered ways of communication.”

Berthold, Colorado, resident Mary Scott, co-director of The National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center explains an approach on the head, heart, physical body and spirit or soul is “the backbone of the whole program.”

The week long retreats can include “Native American healing ceremonies, equine reintegration training, massage, yoga, aroma therapy, acupuncture, art therapy and reiki (a Japanese technique for stress reduction), along with couples and group counseling sessions,” according to the National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center website.

The aim of all retreats is to help “Veterans, Active Duty Military, Reservists, and their significant others who have been diagnosed with PTS (post traumatic stress)” using “traditional and non-traditional healing methods.… Nature and its inherent therapeutic benefits are integral to all of the retreats.”

“It was truly a life changing experience and a great combination of therapy, body work, tears, laughter and pure joy in the end. Thank you all for making it possible. I am grateful and thankful to have been part of this.” — Veteran Participant, April 2011

“I have tried traditional therapy without much success. This time was amazing! The retreat was mentally, emotionally, and even a little physically exhausting. The breakthrough I had is a relief. My mind, body, and soul are in tune again. I am honored that I was able to attend and so grateful for everyone who made this retreat happen.” — Veteran Spouse, October 2013

The National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center relies on donations and fundraising efforts to be able to provide its week-long retreats free of charge. Demand is high.

According to its website, “NVWHC plans to expand its operations to offer year-round retreats. In order to make this happen and continue to offer the retreats at no cost… (the program) depends on the generous support of our donors.”

To make a donation go here; email, or contact Chuck Howe at 575-595-0061. Checks payable to National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center may be sent to: NVW&HC, P.O. Box 805, Angel Fire, NM 87710.

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Chuck Howe with Vietnam Veteran George McClintock
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David Romero of Dixon, New Mexico, is a Vietnam Veteran.
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Dan Jaramillo of Angel Fire volunteers as a wrangler.

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Linda Jones of Red River guides Vietnam Veteran Jerry Bryant of Willis, Texas.
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Las Vegas, New Mexico, resident Jerry Herrera, an Army Veteran of the first Gulf War, and his partner Maria Coca are ready to ride.
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Nancy’s dog, Jenna, is un-phased.
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Nancy Burch leads the pack.
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The chapel of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park looms in the background as Gail Bryant of Willis, Texas, and Vietnam Veteran David Romero ride along Highway 64.
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Genneveve Alarid (right) of Pino Altos, New Mexico, hugs her dad Peter’s neck. Peter, a Navy Corpsman, is a Veteran of the second Iraq War.


Additional Reading

“A season for healing”Sangre de Cristo Chroncle, July 1, 2015

“Cardenas brings traditional healing methods to retreat” Sangre de Cristo Chroncle, July 1, 2015


  1. Great work. Love what you’re doing. My dad was Korea, Vietnam Vet. Brother currently serving. Greetings from Australia

  2. Hey Nance!!
    Great job helping our Vets! I think of you often and miss you! Look me up on FB!
    Love you,
    You little Sis Quiddy

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