Bastrop nonprofit aims to help veterans heal through equine therapy

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BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) — Adjusting to civilian life after the military can be difficult for many veterans. One national report said the suicide rate in 2019 among veterans was 52% higher than non-veterans adults.

In Bastrop, one nonprofit is working to provide veterans with a space to heal. Restoration Ranch first started in 2016 to help veterans through equine therapy.

Richard Carson gives Lily, a seasoned riding horse that was donated to the ranch, a kiss. (KXAN Photo/Candy Rodriguez)
Richard Carson gives Lily, a seasoned riding horse that was donated to the ranch, a kiss. (KXAN photo/Candy Rodriguez)

Richard Carson, an Army medic who did a tour in Afghanistan, retired in 2010 after he was hit by an IED explosion.

He would come home and try equine therapy.

“I really only planned on doing it once,” Carson recalls. “I was kind of checked out and didn’t want to be here anymore and the Army said, ‘Well, you must do something,’ so I went to check the program out and figured I’m going to give it a day and say that I tried,” Carson recalls.

Carson had a background with horses. As a kid, he would volunteer at similar programs.

Richard Carson has been working with Lily over the last three years. (KXAN Photo/Candy Rodriguez)
Richard Carson has been working with Lily over the last three years. (KXAN photo/Candy Rodriguez)

“I didn’t really care about the process, but it gave me the chance to work with horses because I didn’t have any of my own,” he said.

However, Carson fell in love with the program as an adult, and it wouldn’t be the last time he would depend on the animals. In 2017, while driving to work one morning, Carson was in a car accident that would leave him paralyzed. He assumed he could never work with beloved horses again.

Lily was donated to the ranch. She is a former instructing horse and spent her life teaching people how to ride. (KXAN Photo/Candy Rodriguez)
Lily was donated to the ranch. She is a former instructing horse and spent her life teaching people how to ride. (KXAN photo/Candy Rodriguez)

“When I broke my neck I couldn’t keep my horses anymore, so I had to find new homes for them. I didn’t really know how I was going to find a way to work with horses again without having the horses there it made things really difficult for me,” he said. “Not being able to have that connection anymore was really how I dealt with a lot of my PTSD issues and relaxed.”

In 2018, after moving to Texas to live with his mother while recovering from his car crash he discovered Restoration Ranch. It’s a place Army Veteran Derek Knapp, who runs the ranch, calls a safe haven for his brothers in arms.

“There’s something special about horses that I believe God gave them to help us,” Knapp said.

For Carson, his connection with Lily, a seasoned riding horse, helps him make strides toward a healthier and happier life.

Lily and Carson work together at Restoration Ranch. (KXAN photo/Candy Rodriguez)

“It really teaches you to just be present with yourself in the moment and then you’re able to use that skill later on in life to help deal with some of the things that I’ve seen and done in the military,” Carson said. “It really saved my life.”

The ranch helps around 1,000 veterans each year and is open to all veterans and their families.

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