Riding for a Reason

Horse and Rider|Summer 2020

Riding for a Reason
By riding 20 miles through major cities, Trail to Zero sheds light on the epidemic of veteran suicide.
LAUREN FELDMAN

The horses are surprisingly calm as they walk down the bustling steel and concrete corridor of New York City’s Fifth Avenue. A few of their riders are somber, subdued by the gravity of the ride’s purpose. Others are giddy, happy to be here —to be alive. Bright yellow ribbons ornament the horses’ manes, fluttering gently as they catch the breeze. These ribbons aren’t festive decorations, however. Each bears the name of a veteran lost to suicide. Mitchell Reno was almost one of those ribbons.

By 2004, combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq had left the former infantryman shattered—both physically and mentally. Unprepared for re-entry to civilian life, Reno spent the next decade intent on self-destruction, mired in dark thoughts, chasing comfort through alcohol and pills.

“When I say I was at-risk, I truly was,” he says. “I had lost everything that was ever important to me and was at rock bottom. I spent 10 years in a slow suicide. I did terrible things. I just wanted to be dead.”

Reno’s story is all too common among veterans. Bearing both the physical and invisible scars of service, the suicide rate among the veteran population is nearly double that of civilians. According to a 2016 report published by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), an average of 20 veterans die from suicide every day.

It is a crisis that BraveHearts—the largest equine-based therapeutic program in the nation for military veterans—is on a mission to address.

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Summer 2020