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Friday, May 6, 2016

Cherokee saddle maker to craft saddles for worthy Veterans' cause

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Seeking donations to help defray cost

Not too long ago, Cherokeans Doug Woods and Bob Leach were discussing a program which they had heard about on a satellite radio show. The program, called 'Horses for Heroes' (or H4H) Cowbiy Up, is run by New Mexico rancher Rick Iannucci.

Rick Iannucci
In 2007, Iannucci had heard about a program at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. where disabled soldiers were placed in therapeutic horseback riding programs as a means of helping returning veterans cope with the stress of integrating back into civilian life. He felt that while this was a great idea, he also felt that the Veteran's Administration and other government agencies have not been able to handle the large number of returning soldiers, nor the variety of problems that occur when soldiers come home from overseas deployment.

Iannucci, a decorated former Green Beret and U.S. Marshal, operates the Crossed Arrows Ranch, south of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and he feels that the life of a working cowboy is very similar to the life of a soldier. With that thought in mind, he started the Horses for Heroes Cowboy Up Program.

Cowboy Up, though, says Iannucci, "is not about just getting on a pony and riding around an arena. The cowboy culture is almost a parallel to the warrior culture. When these (veterans) came back from Iraq and Afghanistan, they were lost in a lot of ways."

So, just what is this "Horses For Heroes - Cowboy Up!" program that Iannucci has developed? It is a free program, open to veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan who have sustained physical injuries or combat trauma (PTSD) during their time serving our country. The time the veterans spend at the Crossed Arrows Ranch is "hands on" with the horses from the day they arrive, beginning with groundwork and progressing to riding, as well as participating in other aspects of life on the ranch, including working cattle and, more importantly, experiencing camaraderie with cowboys who are veterans themselves. Sharing their experiences, their strengths and hopes, veterans can recuperate, recreate and re-integrate into society, essentially giving them a new and vital mission. In addition to the working cowboys and riding instructors, H4H also has a Clinical Social worker on staff and a psychiatrist on the Advisory Board. The program offers a calm and supportive atmosphere for both women and men veterans, and is tailored to each individual participant.

The sky's the limit to those who wish to carry on with the cowboy culture and pursue other aspects of ranching, or participants can just come to be in the beauty of nature, bond with a magnificent creature, and find that quiet place within. Says Program Dircetor Iannucci, "We train to standard, not to time."

Horses For Heroes is a non-profit corporation, totally funded by donations, and is the only program of its kind that is endorsed by, and partnered with,The Military Order of the Purple Heart - New Mexico, and the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association and its member ranchers.

The saddles Bob Leach will be creating for the Horses For Heroes program will be of a style similar to this one, also crafted by Leach. Photo by Dan Whitney
Ultimately, says Iannucci, this program will be self-sustaining by the veteran participants themselves, as they complete the skills required for the different phases of the Cowboy Up! Program. This will allow veterans to become program instructors and, under the volunteer mentor-ship of working ranch cowboys, raise and train the horses that will become program horses for future veterans coming in to the program.

When Bob Leach and Doug Woods heard about the H4H Cowboy Up program, they investigated it further, and, finding that it indeed appeared to be as great as it sounded, they contacted Rick Iannucci to find out if he could use any "horse equipment" at the ranch. Iannucci told Leach that the program could sure use some good working saddles, and Leach - a retired law enforcement officer who crafts saddles as his "retirement job" - said he would make three Wade saddles for the program. The Wade saddle, named for Oregon cowboy Clifford Wade and named by another cowboy, Tom Dorrance, is built for the working cowboy, and is constructed for comfort and a full day in the saddle. It's rugged, stout and tough - truly a working saddle.

Which brings us to the next part of this story. According to Leach, the cost of building and shipping the saddles to New Mexico will be approximately $2,400, so the Cherokee men are now in the process of raising money, through private donations, to help defray the anticipated cost.

Anyone who is interested in helping out this cause may drop off their donation at Rupp Manufacturing, 525 River Road in Cherokee, or contact Bob Leach or Doug Woods.

Leach will not start building the saddles, which will incorporate the Crossed Arrows Ranch marking into the design, until he has raised a substantial amount of money, but he said that it won't take him long once he starts.

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