Horses for Heroes Helps Heal Scars

During a presentation at the Dixie Girl, Rick Iannucci talks to local Rotarians about his program that helps injured military veterans. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

Staff Report

Former Green Beret Rick Iannucci commanded a special missions unit in Colombia, served as an instructor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and was a member of the elite United States Marshals Special Operations Group. Iannucci also is a working cowboy on several cattle ranches in New Mexico and a nationally recognized 4-H leader.

During a Nov. 19 presentation to the Rotary Club of Los Alamos, Iannucci explained how he combines a lifetime of horsemanship training with his military and police special operations experience into a unique Horses For Heroes healing program for military veterans.

Iannucci’s Horses For Heroes – New Mexico, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation and his Cowboy Up! horsemanship, wellness and skill-set restructuring program is based at his Crossed Arrows Ranch, about 15 miles south of Santa Fe. The program is free to Veterans and active military men and women who have sustained physical injuries or combat trauma (PTSD). From day one of their arrival, the Veterans are hands on with the horses, beginning with groundwork and progressing to riding. They participate in other aspects of ranch life as well, including working cattle and experiencing the camaraderie with cowboys who are Veterans themselves.

“At the ranch we offer a calm and supportive atmosphere,” Iannucci said. “We train to standard, not to time … our program is self-paced and outcome based. Ultimately our program is self-sustaining by the Veteran participants themselves as they complete the skills required for the different phases of the Cowboy Up! Program. This allows Veterans to become program instructors and under the volunteer mentorship of working ranch cowboys raise and train the horses that are the program horses for future Veterans coming into the program.”

As veterans begin to bond with the horses and learn how to “read” them, they begin to heal and feel connected with the civilian world again, Iannucci said. No previous horse or ranch experience is necessary to participate.

Iannucci is the recipient of the Attorney General’s Distinguished Service Award and the U.S. Marshals Service Director’s Award for his work in Colombia. In 2010, he received the American Red Cross Real Heroes Award for his work with military veterans.

Iannucci’s organization is independent and not affiliated with any other Horses for Heroes program, he said, adding that his program is staffed entirely by volunteers and funded by donations from the public with 100 percent of all contributions going toward keeping the heroes horseback.

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