FORT CAVAZOS, Texas — A new horse named Comanche joined the roster of horses Jan. 5 at the Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area Ranch as part of Hoofbeats for Heroes, which provides hope and healing through equine therapy.
Comanche previously served as part of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment Horse Detachment at Fort Irwin, California, and was looking for a new home after being retired.
Retired Maj. Arpinee Sarkisian, Hoofbeats for Heroes volunteer, said her husband was once the commander of the 11th ACR Horse Det. and she met Comanche there years ago.
“Comanche was one of everyone’s favorites because he’s just gorgeous,” she shared. “I got to know him out there.”
After Sarkisian and her husband were given permanent change of station orders to move to Fort Cavazos, she heard from a friend that Comanche was up for adoption. After sending his information to Tiffany Zeitouni, the Hoofbeats for Heroes founder, they decided that Comanche would be a great fit for the program.
“I reached out and emailed the current horse detachment commander, explained to him where Comanche would be coming and what he would be doing and if that was amenable to them as his next possible life, (I asked) if they would pass us an application,” Sarkisian said.
And then, they were accepted.
Next came the challenge of transporting Comanche more than 1,000 miles from California to Texas.
Hoofbeats for Heroes was prepared to make the trip, but as luck would have it, the 1st Cavalry Division Horse Detachment was able to provide transportation.
“It worked out that, that (11th ACR) Horse Detachment was going to go down to Pasadena for the Rose Parade and our (1st Cav. Div.) Horse Detachment was also going to be in Pasadena (for the parade),” Sarkisian said. “We got that cleared through legal and they handed Comanche off. (1st Cavalry Division) brought him back to their horse detachment and (Jan. 5) we loaded him and brought him out here as a fully retired military working horse.”
In his retirement, Comanche is joining the other 20 horses, including two miniature horses and a donkey, at BLORA Ranch as part of the Hoofbeats for Heroes program.
The non-profit program’s mission is to serve and bring together the civilian and military community at Fort Cavazos through their hands of service.
“We’re all here with the horses, but at the same time that has brought us together to where we’re working hand in hand, serving a higher calling,” Zeitouni said. “That has been the joy in my heart — being able to see people come here and learn about themselves while they’re here.
“We’ve created a place where people can live and have a place where they feel at home,” Zeitouni added. “That’s a beautiful thing because all of us have come from different duty stations or some have stayed here who have decided to make this their home.”
The program has partnered with Warrior Adventure Quest to bring in more Soldiers to experience the organization and learn “equine taught life skills.” Once they learn how to properly put on a horse’s harness, they will be challenged to catch their horse, after which they will learn the horse’s name and story.
“When they go out, we don’t tell them what horse to catch, God does that,” Zeitouni said. “He allows them to be aligned with whatever horse they need that day. Comanche is going to allow a lot of military (members) that come through here to relate to him. He’s been able to serve, obviously not in the same job, but he understands.”
Emilee Brown, volunteer with Hoofbeats for Heroes, said the horses are a great tool for present self-reflection.
“When you’re approaching a horse, they hold you accountable to regulate your nervous system and they can also help regulate your nervous system,” she explained. “Working with the horses in that manner has been amazing.”
One volunteer shared that they struggled after losing their emotional support dog who was their best friend. The volunteer was checked into an inpatient care facility for a week, but was still struggling with the loss.
At that time, they began volunteering with Hoofbeats for Heroes where they were able to find that emotional connection again through working with the horses.
“People tell us that this has saved their life,” Zeitouni said. “It’s something that means so much to all of us because there are things that a lot of us don’t share in life, but if a horse is able to save someone’s life, then we’re doing the right things. We’re giving someone purpose.”
She went on to explain that the horses have many different backgrounds. Some were race horses, show horses and even barrel racers. They are as diverse in their experiences as the humans that interact with them and that’s what makes them so relatable. Comanche’s experiences will have just as much of an impact.
“I’m a misfit,” she expressed.
“There are things that happen to us in life that make us different. The horses that come here (are the same way). We’re all misfits together. Knowing that (Comanche) is being retired from the Army allows him to have purpose here with a whole other herd of horses that have different things about them that brought them here. That makes us all a family.”
Emily Caramanian, Hoofbeats for Heroes volunteer and Warrior Adventure Quest coordinator, said Soldiers have benefited greatly from their experiences with the Hoofbeats for Heroes program.
“We have Soldiers that have communicated back to us, in house, and said how thankful they are that they had the opportunity to come out here,” she shared. “At the end … we’ll take them over and do a leader-lead action debrief, which is like a military AAR (after-action review), but we only focus on the positives. Some of the questions we ask are, ‘What was the relationship like with your horse?’ And, ‘How can you use what you’ve learned today and bring that back into the workplace?’”
Mike Gaboury, volunteer with Hoofbeats for Heroes, said he and his wife loved horses. So much so that his wife offered to buy him one, but he had a better deal volunteering with Hoofbeats for Heroes.
“Once I started volunteering here, … I said ‘I’ve got 20,’” he shared. “The horses are all different and they have their own personalities and I can associate with most of them. I have a great bond with these horses that I wouldn’t have with a single horse.”
Zeitouni shared that the “horse angels” are like her children and that caring for them gives her purpose. She expressed her heartfelt thanks to the 1st Cav. Div. Horse Det. for helping with Comanche’s transportation and the 11th ACR for allowing Hoofbeats for Heroes to care for Comanche for the rest of his life.
“I am truly honored that they chose our program to allow Comanche to come and spend the rest of his life here,” she said. “It means so much to me that they said that there were a lot of qualified candidates, but they felt like this is where he needed to be. I know he’s going to make a huge impact.”
For more information, visit https://hoofbeatsforheroes.org/.