Veteran’s Club Founder Continues to Grow Equine Therapy Program for Kentucky Veterans
Kentucky’s identity is strongly surrounded around horses and the horse industry. In fact, the equine industry is a major part of the state’s agribusiness and Kentuckians claim that because Kentucky’s hills are filled with limestone, the bluegrass that grows there is rich in calcium. The calcium supposedly builds unusually strong bones in horses.
Equine therapy involves different treatments and activities with horses to promote human physical and mental health. Kentucky’s Veteran’s Club Founder and President, Jeremy Harrell, offers equine therapy as a support to those in need.
Harrell is a Louisville, Kentucky native and US Army Combat Veteran of the Iraq War. He was deployed during the initial invasion in 2003-2004. Harrell is married to his wife Erin and they have four children, Brooklyn, Mattie, Lola and Collin. Due to his military service in Iraq he was medically retired and diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.
“This in turn is what has lead me to start the Veteran’s Club,” Harrell explains. “Obviously getting out of the Army early and becoming retired at 30 years old wasn’t the plan.”
Harrell recalls not knowing about any help groups or many organizations that were willing to help someone like him through his transition back home.
“I felt like a fish out of water,” he says. “You can’t relax, you have nothing to worry about but you can’t relax. You don’t know how to react anymore and be civilized. Everyone is proud of you and you get parades but then the parades stop. You feel alone in this world and in this country. When you try to build relationships with people it doesn’t happen. The odds are against you coming home.
“I truly felt like my identity was stripped from me and now I had no mission,” Harrell adds. “I felt lost, hopeless and unproductive while at the same time dealing with the issues of my service in Iraq.
This went on for nearly a five-year period and after three divorces that didn’t last three years total and several other failed relationships with family and friends, Harrell came to a point where he knew something had to change. After being fired from his job, he was diagnosed with PTSD by the United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
“You live it everyday” Harrell says. “I loved every minute of the military and felt like I was making a difference.”
Harrell explains his experience after going to the VA
”I was sitting in my living room thinking about what the VA had said,” he says. “I still get emotional because that was my identity. Lots of veterans have had the same experience. Now I know how important family is.”
After meeting his wife, Erin, Jeremy attended an equine program in Kansas.
“Erin was raised around horses most of her adult life,” Harrell says. “She thought it would help me.”
According to Harrell, “I was very reluctant since I’d never touched a horse and hadn’t been any closer to a horse then at Churchill Downs. However, we’ve all heard the phrase Happy Wife, Happy Life so I went along.”
Harrell remembered feeling immediately relaxed out on the beautiful farm in Kansas. He and Erin were introduced to the horses
”Although I was very nervous at first, I became drawn to the animal,” he says. “I remember being so busy watching the horse and working with it that I was no longer thinking about all the ruminating thoughts I’ve been used to. I was too involved learning the horses and horsemanship skills.”
After that weekend, he and his wife flew back home and Harrell vowed to share that same kind of program in Kentucky, the horse capital of the world.
“This was all an idea on a napkin and the idea was to get 12-15 veterans involved,” he says. “Nearly two years later, we’ve served around 90 veterans through our equine program which is now nationally recognized.
“I’ve had Vietnam veterans come up to me and say they haven’t felt that relaxed in 40 years,” he adds. “Being 38 years old, that was an overwhelming feeling to know that Vietnam vets have been struggling in silence longer than I’ve been alive and we were able to provide that kind of relief in five hours on the ranch with horses and conversation. We’ve been privileged to see marriages and relationships with children restored after a few sessions of our Equine Program.”
The Veteran’s Club currently hosts the Salvation Army Homeless Vets and, according to Harrell, there have been several veterans who have found jobs, bought vehicles and found housing on their own after his work through the program. Veteran’s Club hosts Volunteers of America Shelby Men’s Recovery Program, InspiriTec in Fort Knox, and the club works with participants from the Jefferson and Fayette Counties veteran treatment court.
Harrell says Veteran’s Club has helped more than a thousand vets in outreach, therapeutic activities and job opportunities. The Veteran’s Club has expanded their programming by adding Veteran’s Club Yoga and monthly family cookouts to our therapeutic activities.
“During the winter months when we aren’t engaged in Equine Therapy we focus on community outreach,” Harrell says. “We’ve raised money and food for the Coast Guard members in Louisville during the shutdown. We also donated a car to a Woman and Family Shelter in Shelbyville called Operation Care. We have a private Facebook group we use to reach vets in between events and to share resources and information within the veteran community, too.”
The private Facebook group has more than 1,000 members and creates a platform for vets to communicate privately and freely and has helped in a reduction of veteran suicide.
“We are growing exponentially and look forward to serving the veterans of Louisville and the state of Kentucky,” Harrell says. “It’s my new mission and a passion that I can’t tame.”
Harrell’s work with the Veteran’s Club has resulted in being named this year’s Kentucky Veteran of the Year, being commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel and nominated for the Kentucky Hall of Fame.