War veterans get help from Rick Iannucci's 'therapeutic riding' program
At his New Mexico ranch, Rick Iannucci invites war veterans suffering from PTSD and other problems to work with horses and heal their wounds.
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Iannucci has been a big part of that, he adds. "He creates a safe environment, a community, and here you have that brotherhood that we had in the service," says the former marine, now a Cowboy Up! instructor and ranch hand at a nearby ranch. "It's like one big family. The first thing Rick said to me was, 'Welcome home.' "Skip to next paragraph
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Iannucci, a compact man with a purposeful demeanor and a walrus mustache, grew up in horse-racing country in southeastern Pennsylvania. From about age 12, Iannucci trained and rode quarter horses his family kept at his cousin's farm.
After retiring from his job as a US marshal working in Colombia, he moved to New Mexico and returned to horsemanship in earnest. He bought the ranch and built a horse arena, initially to provide a place for children to ride.
A few years later he started inviting veterans to come and work with the horses. Word about Cowboy Up! began to spread.
Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D) of New Mexico has also paid a visit. "Rick doesn't hesitate to take on a challenge, but he's also a very humble and patient person," Mr. Lujan says. "The program is truly impressive. Just to see the faith these men and women have is incredible."
Therapeutic riding dates back to the years after World War II, when Britain and Germany used it to rehabilitate veterans. It gained popularity after the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland, when, despite being paralyzed by polio, Liz Hartel of Denmark won a silver medal in dressage.
As more veterans return from overseas, Iannucci hopes his program can expand to other states. "It's even better than we dreamed it would be," Iannucci says.
"There's no better, more gratifying experience than when you see [the veterans] make progress mastering these skills."
• Visit horsesforheroes.blogspot.com
Editor's note: Staff photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman traveled to New Mexico to see the 'Cowboy Up!' program firsthand.