Season Recap Part 2: Shawn Dunham
I've been a cowboy all my life – some would even say I was born 150 years too late. I was born and raised in South Texas. my father's boss was a descendant of Richard King, founder of the famous King Ranch. My earliest memories are of pushing cows with some top-notch cowboys and vaqueros that taught me a lot about being a horse hand. Being the rebellious, misunderstood middle child that I was, I tried to stray away from the cowboy way of life, but something just kept pulling me back in.
After a short stint in the Marine Corps, a 14-year career as a professional rodeo clown/Bullfighter, and then law enforcement, at the ripe age of 35, I joined the Army and did 2 tours in Iraq with the 3D Cavalry Regiment (still couldn't get away from my horse/cowboy background). I left the military in 2013 and struggled to find my place in society. Keeping to my cowboy roots, I landed a few jobs in some TV shows and movies as a wrangler and a stunt man, but I continued to struggle with PTSD, TBI, depression, and I still felt as though I couldn't find a place to fit in.
Let's just say that the start of 2017 wasn't the best for me. I lost my dad, he was my hero, my John Wayne and Captain Woodrow F Call, all rolled into one. I was really struggling with alcohol after his passing and depression was beating me down. The one release I had wasn't drugs, alcohol, or medications; it was my horses.
I saw an article about Heroes and Horses and instantly knew I needed to be part of the program. I filled out the application, prayed to GOD (first time in a long time), and hoped I would be picked. The day I got the call from Micah and he told that I had been accepted into the program, my life started to turn....for the better....I could feel it deep inside my soul.
The night before I left Montana, I could not sleep. I must have packed and re-packed 100 times. My heart was happy again, my soul was on fire.... I could not wait to finally be there.
The day I arrived in Montana and at Heroes and Horses headquarters, without unpacking my bags, I went straight to the horse pen. As I walked up I saw a corral full of beautiful, majestic BLM mustangs and mules. Most of these animals were running wild and free just 6 months ago. I could feel their energy and their willingness to learn as I walked through the herd, I think my curiosity was stronger than theirs.
After introducing myself to that amazing herd of horses and mules, I met the "magnificent 7" and our instructors. I didn't know it at the time, but the MAG 7 would come together and work together like any elite military group/brotherhood I've ever worked with. From day one we were there to keep each other motivated, cheer on victories, or pick each other up when needed.
The trips into the mountains on horseback were amazing, I've never been in such beautiful wilderness. Sleeping under the stars, you could almost reach out and pluck them out of the sky. The bonds that were formed between each student and their horse grew stronger every day. There were very spiritual moments for me. I buried a lot of inner demons at 10,000 feet. I even caught myself with a tear or two running down my cheek at the beauty and peacefulness.
This program is not like any other veteran program I have been part of. I am now a walking, talking, riding ambassador for the program. Even now, I think about how every choice I make, everything I do, how will this impact Heroes and Horses. To say that Heroes and Horses made an impact on me is an understatement. They say the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man, I will add to that by saying Heroes and Horses is good for healing a veteran’s soul.