Disabled veterans are competing against one another in a horse riding competition called “Heroes on horses.”
The National Snaffle Bit Association sponsored the event for its second annual show on Saturday at the Tulsa Expo Square.
Disabled veterans from across the country came to the event. The NSBA put on a patriotic show with the Oklahoma Color Guard presenting the flags for the opening ceremony before the veterans competition along with the Oklahoma patriot Guard Riders’ flag line and support from the American Veterans Motorcycle Club.
Rebecca Volkert is the executive director of the NSBA’s foundation who helped start the Heroes On Horses program with the NSBA.
“Last Spring, a friend from New Mexico who is with a therapeutic riding group called me,” said Volkert. “He said they had riding classes for disabled people but wanted to make a specific class for disabled veterans. “It was an idea and it just seemed like the right thing to do.”
Devin Robertson, a veteran of the Coast Guard for 13 years, now 42-years-old, won the first annual Heroes On Horses competition last year and returned for a second victory this year.
Robertson started riding therapeutic horses in her hometown, Zion, Illinois, a couple years ago to help with her incurable disease.
“I caught I from my father who caught it from his father,” said Robertson.
She has MJD Type 3, also known as Machado-Joseph Disease, or Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type 3. It is a rare disease that is inherited. It is neurodegenerative and attacks the lower part of the brain called the cerebellum, which affects her balance. She left the Coast Guard in 2003, and was diagnosed in 2004. A year ago, she has to start using a wheel chair.
Robertson glowed when she rode her young therapeutic horse, Toby, who she brought with her from her program, called Partners for Progress.
“It's makes you feel like you're walking again,” said Robertson, as she emotionally explained what it means to her when she rides Toby.
“It brings back memories of when you were walking,” said Robertson. “It's hard not to smile when you're on the back of a horse.”
Robertson’s smile is known in the NSBA community.
“She smiles the entire time she is on a horse; I mean she gets on the horse and she smiles,” said Volkert.
Robertson trotted away with another first place trophy this year.
Volkert explained the disabled veterans who are emotionally and mentally disabled are also benefitting from therapeutic horses.
“You can’t see all the wounds, many of the veterans come back with the emotional wounds,” said Volkert. “One of our veterans had his three buddies blown up next to him while he was serving overseas; he talked about he feels best on a horse, if he couldn’t be on horse 24 seven he would be happy he smiles.”
She said it is hard for her to watch the competitions because she knows these veterans are tough competitors and some of them have had their physical competition taken away from them, except now they can compete with the horse doing the physical part.
“There is a bond there, and it’s a very, very, special bond,” said Volkert.
If you want to donate to the NSBA Heroes on Horses please go to this website: