500 Miles: Why Did it Even Matter?
On a very cold morning, January 4th 2017, the team from Heroes and Horses, along with 3 trucks and 3 stock trailers, left for a BLM mustang holding facility in Burns, OR. It was the culmination of every one of my life experiences that lead me to that moment. It was everything that I really believed, deep down to the core, in action. A belief about people, horses, and the environment. It was about a process that transcends labels, obstacles, and carves to the core of the authenticity of the human being.
Thoughts raced for hours as we crossed snowy mountain pass after snowy mountain pass. So many people were actually betting against me as this concept for the 500 Mile Project began to take shape. The fact that I wasn’t a lifelong horseman, or going to clinic after clinic, people though it was a crazy idea. Then again, I never cared about what other people thought about me. I refuse to live a life contained by other people’s silos. I knew what I believed. It was in my heart. People, horses, and the landscape - they all change the same way. Through pressure and time. A process that is designed to peel back the layers to who we really are, who we were designed to be. The obstacle, ironically, is actually the way. When that knowledge is gained, purpose opens life up for you. Everything on earth was designed for something. That destination is solely our choice, no matter what happens. I wanted to tell a story of purpose, but, more importantly, I wanted to show it – that was how the concept of documenting this epic journey was born.
50,000 wild horses live in the BLM facilities, while there are only about half of that number in the wild. Just like these mustangs, our nations veterans face grim statistics: homelessness, joblessness, escalating suicide and addiction rates. What is the real problem society is facing, veterans are facing, and that wild horses are facing? The current response has been more medication, more land, more money, more counseling, better holding facilities – but it’s not working, none of it is. We are missing the greater lesson of life. It’s not about excuses and explanations and stories about how hard you’ve had it. It’s about why we are here, and what life is all about, and the lessons we need to learn. It's a story about purpose, how life makes room for us, or anything for that matter. I decided to share that story and to show that process though 500 Miles - the story of the un-purposed horse, and the un-purposed human-being.
Heroes and Horses, along with a team of volunteers, adopted 15 BLM mustangs with the plans to gentle and train all 15 in three months (January to March). Three of us would then ride them from New Mexico to Arizona (560 miles), and then we would match each one of these horses to a veteran going through the Heroes and Horses 3 phase, 9-week program in June 2017. It would become one of the hardest things I have ever done, and that says a lot coming from a person who once had a career as a SOF Operator. I don't use the term "hard" lightly. Then again, if the obstacle is the way then “let her buck”. That was the longest and coldest winter I can remember. Seven days a week with the horses, running a company, being a dad – it tested me in so many ways I am getting teared up writing this right now. I learned more about horses then I have ever known, and found out that it’s really not that hard. Save your money! Reward the slightest try, and make the good thing easy and the bad thing hard. Calm, confident, and consistent. The rest is just technique and patience. Pressure and time.
Arriving in Quemado, New Mexico with three trailers and with a light snow falling on a little one-horse-town was like a breath of fresh air. I believed, the team believed, and the horses were ready. Little two-day pack trips, the occasional rodeo, a few runaways, a couple of broken bones, and weeks of 18 hour days had led us to this very moment. You see, there is a small space that changes your life. You cannot control what obstacles you will face in life, and you cannot control time. But between stimulus and time exists a small place. A place where we make life what we want it to be. That is your ability to choose, and there lies your freedom.
My mind races when I think of the most challenging parts of this trip:
Crossing the Continental Divide at 10,000 feet at 4 am in a blizzard.
Peeling horses out of tree snags, upside down on cliff sides.
Hot, cactus-infested, deserts of the Superstitions.
A dark and scary night sitting next to a railroad track with Hambone watching the helicopter take away my close friend, Russ.
Three men, a support crew, and a veteran journalist did the impossible from start to finish. They faced the challenges of pressure and time to re-purpose the lives of these mustangs, so that these horses could change the lives of a few un-purposed men. It’s not “combat” that’s the problem, or “too many horses”, it’s a lack of purpose. It’s there for us to find, because what you are looking for you already have.
You will have to watch the move, 500 Miles, slated to be released to the public on November 10, 2017, to find out more.
This is really all of our story. Every human being has a 500.
The question is, will it happen to you or for you.
- Micah Fink, Founder/CEO