U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Matt Bechtel’s deployment to Iraq was harder on his oldest daughter Kelly than it was on him.
What made it easier on both was, of all things, horses, and Horses4Heroes, the Centennial Hills-based nonprofit that helped connect 7-year-old Kelly with dozens of daughters whose dads had been sent overseas.
“She was having a lot of issues,” said Kelly’s mother, Allison Bechtel. “She was obsessed with horses, even before we found out about (Horses4Heroes), so we would go every week, and it just helped keep her mind off Daddy being gone.”
Kelly has since enlisted in free group rides, horse shows and the organization’s Christmas and summer camps.
By the time he got back in 2011, Matt Bechtel realized he had some catching up to do.
Never a fan of horses — “They kick too much” — the Colorado native now sports a closet full of Horses4Heroes T-shirts and can be found mucking stalls on weekends.
“Last year, we were trying to do camps, but we weren’t really in the best spot to pay for them,” the 24-year-old helicopter mechanic said. “The reason I started becoming really active is because they wanted Kelly there, anyway.
“They care more about the members than whether or not you can pay. Nowadays, I just do what I can — feeding horses, watering them, mucking stalls, whatever I can.”
Bechtel credits the hard work of Horses4Heroes founder Sydney Knott for his daughter’s rapid improvement during his deployment.
Knott, for her part, is having none of it. She sees the arrangement as mutually therapeutic.
“Horses react to the people; people react to the horses,” she said. “You take at-risk horses up for slaughter, and you take these veterans — some of whom don’t know what to do when they get back, some of whom have (post-traumatic stress disorder) — and they find comfort in each in each other, a kind of therapy. It sounds like a fairy tale, but it happens every day.”
The organization, founded by Knott and her three daughters in 2006, has grown to 250 locations across 44 U.S. states and Canada.
At a local level, it’s still more or less a one-woman operation, with Knott and her family tackling coordination of monthlong empowerment workshops for returning veterans and weekly horseback rides for stay-at-home military moms.
The effort is not lost on the Bechtels, who lauded the organization’s willingness to offer those programs for free and deeply discounted prices for veterans who can’t always afford the help.
For Knott, the couple’s participation has been thanks enough.
“We live in a community where 35,000 people work at Nellis Air Force Base alone,” she said. “We thought we’d just stop and say thank you.”
Horses4Heroes, 4837 N. Monte Cristo Way, coordinates or contributes to more than a dozen equestrian programs for active-duty military personnel, veterans, first responders, critical care and hospice nurses, special education teachers and their families.
For more information, call 702-645-8446 or visit horses4heroes.org.
Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter James DeHaven at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3839.