Horses Transform Veterans’ Lives and Career Paths | SLO Horse News

Horses Transform Veterans’ Lives and Career Paths

Four local veterans’ lives and career paths transformed because of horses. Today, military suicide rates are four times higher than deaths that occurred during military operations. Veterans find themselves lost without purpose and often homeless. The first graduating class of veterans from the Elite Vocations horsemanship program changed that statistic. Horses transform veterans’ lives and career paths.


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Horses Transform Veterans’ Lives and Career Paths | SLO Horse News
Elite Vocations Directors Simon d’Unienville, Program Facilitator; Yvette d’Unienville, co-creator and facilitator; Jeff , one of the graduates; Steve Baird, co-founder and President of Band of Brothers

Celebrating the finishing of the 10-week course and graduating the first class of Elite Vocations graduates was certainly a milestone to celebrate. Family and friends joined together in the backyard of the Band of Brothers’ home in Santa Maria. The turn-of-the-century home and yard was the perfect place to acknowledge the accomplishments not only of the veterans but of the inaugural class of Elite Vocations’ students. As the intent of the program set out to do these graduates testify that horses transform veterans’ lives.

Horses Transform Veterans’ Lives

Horses Transform Veterans’ Lives and Career Paths | SLO Horse News
Trey started a job as a barn manager the week of graduation.

Trey came into the program with some horse experience. He proudly received his Experienced Groom certificate and graduation medal, with his wife and young son, plus his parents cheering him on. He then described what the Elite Vocations program did for him. “My journey to today started with Band of Brothers mentoring me through the good and bad parts of being in the service.” Trey was mentored by the Band of Brothers President Steve Baird. Trey continued, “This program has completely changed my direction. I was in a bad place and this program helped me find my purpose.”

One of the key experiences for Trey during the program was, “the trust and faith we built in one another.” Building on that trust, Trey has changed careers. His first career step into the horse world is as a barn manager at Rancho Mora, a stable in the Santa Ynez Valley. He started the job the week he graduated. “I’m excited to get out that door in the morning and go to work!”

Trey’s testimony describes how horses transformed a veteran’s life.


10 weeks of Horsemanship Training Leads to New Careers

Horses Transform Veterans’ Lives and Career Paths | SLO Horse News

Throughout the 10-week horsemanship course the students got hands-on experience and training to prepare them for jobs in the horse world. Students learned how to care for, groom, tack-up, lunge and long line, take vital signs + weigh and measure horses, wrap legs, note unusual behavior, feed, muck stalls, hand-walk, hold horses for the farrier or vet, work on basic ground manners training and desensitizing of horses, work with horses using their natural communication system and herd dynamics (as opposed to force), equine first aid, plus theory learning including digestion & nutrition, equine psychology, anatomy & physiology and barn safety (among other topics).

No Prior Horse Experience Needed

Horses Transform Veterans’ Lives and Career Paths | SLO Horse News
Jeff got a job as a barn manager

Even those with no prior horse experience can build employable skills for the horse industry. Jeff is an example of that: “Do you like horses?” that question got Jeff started. “I didn’t know anything about horses.” Jeff reported. “I was stressed and suicidal,” yet, the horses began to do a work on Jeff. “Working with the horses make life easier. Connecting with an animal makes my life different.” Jeff is now working as a barn manager where he can connect with horses every day he works.

Jeff’s is another life transformed by horses.

Transformed to Give Back

Horses Transform Veterans’ Lives and Career Paths | SLO Horse News
Lucas is overly grateful.

Some participants have a heart to give back and jump into the process as mentors or ambassadors for the Elite Vocations program. Lucas entered the program with a high level of horse experience. As he sharpened and grew his horsemanship skills, the main thing that kept hitting him was watching his fellow veterans grow.

Lucas expressed this as he accepted his completion certificate and medal. “I’m overly grateful for the opportunity to watch these guys grow. This program has taught me a lot about myself. Now I’m living a far better life than I was before.” Lucas will be returning to the Elite Vocations program as an intern to continue his education, with the goal of one day becoming certified to teach/assist with teaching the program. The next class is currently underway.

Lucas wants to give back because horses transformed his life.

Fitting All the Roles Together

Horses Transform Veterans’ Lives and Career Paths | SLO Horse News
Band of Brothers President, Steve Baird with Justin

Elite Vocations stepped into a role that seems designed for them. To start with, Echo Group Band of Brothers in Santa Maria is the fiscal sponsor of the program and is one of the main sources for providing participating veterans. Next is the location. Legacy Village Wellness Center is an in-patient addictions recovery center for veterans at the Solid Rock Ranch property.  Unused horse facilities on the grounds housed storage. This was transformed as the training site for Elite Vocations.

So, all the physical aspects were put into play and Elite Vocations started this first class of students. However, the ongoing work of getting the word out to sponsors, building a support base, and recruiting participants still needed to happen. All the entities were focused on their roles, but couldn’t spare time for this big job. So, Justin, a program participant jumped in with both feet.

“I was a part of this from the beginning,” Justin explained. “Taking the lead for Band of Brothers regarding taking on Elite Vocations.” So, when Justin realized the need, I also helped look for the property.” Justin deferred his graduation to focus on growing the program. “I chose to beat the path and get sponsors to ensure the program would flourish. I chose to serve others before self.”

Horses helped Justin put others before self.

Giving Back

Horses Transform Veterans’ Lives and Career Paths | SLO Horse News
Andrew Graduates from the Elite Vocations Program

A fourth graduate, Andrew, will also be giving back as a program mentor. Upon graduating Andrew shared, “It has been an honor and a privilege to be a part of this program. I am thankful and grateful.”

Horses transformed this veteran’s life.

Pairing Horses and Humans for Transformed Lives

The vision of Elite Vocations is to empower veterans to fill the need for reliable people who care for horses where there could be housing. In the process a therapeutic process takes place. So, in the end the veteran not only gets training for employment with daily horse therapy, the security of housing is often a benefit of the job.

Horses Transform Veterans’ Lives and Career Paths | SLO Horse News
The Horses’ Lives Are Also Transformed

The humans are not the only ones transformed. Each horse used in the 10-week session gets the handling and training it needs to be more readily adoptable. As an Industry Partner of the ASPCA’s The Right Horse Initiative, Elite Vocations works to market and rehome these horses in partnership with Right Horse Adoption Partners like Win Place Home, a 501(c)(3) retired racehorse rehab, retraining and rehoming center in Santa Clarita. As horses are adopted out in the program, new ‘horses in transition’ are able to take their place to receive the same training. The vision for the future is to see all the horses adopted out at the end of each ten-week program.

You Can Get Involved in the Continuing Work of Elite Vocations

Currently, the second 10-week Elite Vocations program is underway. Elite Vocations is always looking for industry professionals to come share their experience with the students. Each veteran student participates in the program free of charge, so donations are always appreciated. Come share your experience or contribute to the effort of horses transforming veterans’ lives. Get in contact with Elite Vocations.


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