Someone You Should Know: Nathan Bush

(WHAM photo)

Mendon, N.Y. (WHAM) - Four wild horses have arrived at Equicenter in Mendon. They are here to help, and to be helped.

U.S. Air Force veteran Nathan Bush is working with one of them. After leaving the military life he loved, Bush has struggled to heal from wounds - seen and unseen.

He is not unlike a wild horse taken from its herd.

With their habitat shrinking, the federal government has rounded up thousands of wild mustangs out west. The agency says the intent is to preserve the herd.

But the mustangs taken out of the wild suffer serious stress and anxiety. After all, theirs was a world without fences or close contact with people.

“They can get a little panicky,” Bush says. “They're really aware of their surroundings, and it's hard for them to lay that down, even when it's safe.”

Nathan knows that the words he uses to describe a wild horse adjusting to captivity could also be used to describe himself as he struggles to find meaning in life after the military.

“I thought I was just going back to normal life,” Bush said. “And when I came home I was a different person. I really felt unmoored, disconnected, not part of my unit. I kind of lost my purpose, and there were dark times.”

Formerly wild horses might be able to relate.

“They've been separated out,” Bush said. “They’re in transition. They’re trying to adapt to this new world. New to them. We get to try to help each other do that, because I need it, too. As do many vets."

Equicenter has been chosen by the Bureau of Land Management to be part of “Mission Mustang.” It’s a two-year test of the idea that veterans with stress and anxiety can help these stressed and anxious horses.

“The veterans are trying to help these horses find another place,” says Jonathan Friedlander, Equicenter President and CEO. “It's given them a real sense of purpose and, in the end, I think they end up saving each other.”

At first, about ten veterans will work with the four mustangs.

The most recent additions to the stables at Equicenter are very different animals from the other horses found here. Equicenter offers therapeutic equestrian programs for at-risk youth, people with disabilities, and veterans.

With the mustangs, an expert trainer leads the veteran and horse through a slow and careful process. Each step designed to break down barriers, and build trust.

“I have to leave everything behind,” Bush says. “It's teaching me to be present, because I’ve got to know when he's going to step away. Jack (trainer Jack Minteer) will say, 'Walk up until he's just about to step away.' Well, how do you know when that moment is, and it takes a bit of feeling that out.”

The mustangs arrived at Equicenter without names. It didn't take long for Nathan to start calling one of the horses, "Hero."

“It’s only been six days I've been in the ring with him, but the changes I'm picking up are already pulling me up and changing me," said Nathan. "He's a hero to me, and I want to be that for him, too.”

The program is being paid for with individual and corporate donations. More information about Equicenter and its programs is available online here.

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