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Last year in November BraveHearts Therapeutic Riding and Educational Center, a PATH Intl. Premier Accredited Center in Harvard, IL, began mentoring veterans to become PATH Intl. Certified Registered Instructors so veterans can teach other veterans riding while providing much needed peer to peer support. The mentorship program was led by PATH Intl. Certified Master Instructor Meggan Hill-McQueeney and assisted by PATH Intl. Certified Registered Instructor Paddy McKevitt and PATH Intl. Certified Registered Instructor and USMC veteran Nick Montijo. The process began with three all-intensive days that focused on the PATH Intl. instructor certification process, enhancing riding and horsemanship skills and overall knowledge of working with people with diagnoses. Following the three-day all-intensive course, the veterans were given instructions to complete their Phase 1 requirements of the certification along with gaining as much exposure as possible to riding lessons and teaching opportunities at BraveHearts.

The veterans independently held group meetings to work with one another taking practice tests and reviewing course preparations. Once Phase 1 was completed, the group quickly moved to Phase 2 and began obtaining their teaching hours.  In January, the group met again for their second in house training consisting of an all day training creating lesson plans, riding and teaching one another. This gave the group time to reflect on possible lesson plans for the certification, strengthen their teaching and evaluate what they needed to work on with their riding. The group met with Meggan in March again to review progress, questions and more critiquing.  Meggan also used a lot of the teachings of Barb Schulte to help mentally prepare the veterans for the riding and teaching components and the specific skill sets Meggan teaches for performance enhancement strategies.    

In March, Mary Apper (Navy), Fred Busby (USMC) and Ron Hathaway(Air Force) along with Trecia Rodgers (Army) from ROCK in TX, participated in a week-long preparation, workshop and certification  course. Arriving to the farm the four veterans moved in and spent long hours each day to perfect lesson plans and their riding pattern prior to the OSWC. The OSWC was led by faculty  Marny Mansfield and Kathy Glew. The two and a half day workshop was also attended by 4 additional veterans (Ernest Coleman, Mitchell Hedlund, Greg Machalinski and Jeff Murphy) whom are currently preparing for Phase 1 and hope to certify later this year.  After the two and a half days of the workshop concluded, Mary, Fred, Ron and Trecia rode their pattern and each taught two veteran participants for their testing. We are proud to announced that all four veterans passed both components for their certification and are now PATH Intl. Registered Level Instructors.

The entire training and workshop was at no cost to the veterans due to funding received by the Milne Family Foundation, which consisted of funding for 15 veterans to receive their PATH Intl. Registered Level Instructor Certification within three years (2015-2017). The planning, preparation and training for the OSWC took much time and effort on BraveHearts, PATH as well as the two facilitators who helped to structure the course to be the best schedule for the veterans. A lot was taken into consideration of the process. The preparation was well worth it to watch all four veterans pass their certification and continue to move forward with their horsemanship. The veterans all came from different horsemanship backgrounds--two having been riding throughout their life and two veterans who have only been riding within the last year.

One veteran shared this quote with us to wrap up his experience, “With BraveHearts help, I am now a PATH Therapeutic Riding Instructor. BraveHearts has had the courage to see potential in me when I felt I had nothing to give. They have taught me to live in the moment and not dwell on my mistakes and shortcomings…I am proud I can now give back to others in need and I hope I can help others recognize their endless potential...I have gone from wishing I had died to a person that is looking for the next challenge no matter what it is. More than that, I want to help others face their fears and defeat those fears. For the first time in my life I BELIEVE I can do anything. BraveHearts has saved my life and I will be forever grateful.”

In April 2016, BraveHearts held the first training course for the next round of veterans who will be certifying later this year. These veterans consist of BraveHearts’s veterans Ernest Coleman, Mitchell Hedlund, Greg Machalinski and Jeff Murphy as well as Brenda-Lee Anderson from Rainier in WA and Brandon Horning from Colorado Therapeutic Riding Center in CO. These veterans are in the early stages of Phase 1 and will continue to develop with the guidance of Meggan and Paddy along with fellow veterans Mary, Fred, Ron and Nick.  BraveHearts is excited to watch these instructors to continue to develop and pursue their passion of helping fellow veterans and people with disabilities and reach their unlimited potential.  

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