OK National Guard children take a ride at 6th Annual Horseback Heroes

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brigette Waltermire
  • 137th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
With background noises of excited squeals and a steady thud of horses’ hooves, pairs of eyes dart around frantically as children try to spot a horse through the herd.

“Is there a horse named Cupcake?” one young voice asks loudly. “If there is, I need to ride it.”

It was a hard day of ropin’ and ridin’ for the 101 children who participated in the sixth annual Horseback Heroes event, Oct. 28, 2017, at Gerry Shepherd’s Covey Creek Cattle Company in south Oklahoma City. However for those who have attended in the past, it was a day full of fun and filled with familiar horses from previous years.

“It really surprised me (that they remember the names of the horses),” said Ashley McKenzie of Silver Wind Stables, which provided some of the horses for the day. “They even remember the handlers, so that’s one of the rewards of volunteerism.”

McKenzie has volunteered three times and said the most difficult part of the day is transporting 30-40 horses in two-horse trailers – the kids are easy.

Horseback Heroes was started as a day for children with deployed Oklahoma National Guard parents to have fun and escape their typical daily routines. The event allows military families around the region to gather with others who understand what it is to have a family member deployed.

The parents who are at home while their spouses are deployed, are especially thankful for this day.

“Being around other military kids who know what it’s like to be a military kid is the best thing about today,” said Rachelle Buck, whose husband deployed with the Oklahoma Army National Guard. “Horses are such good therapy because the kids can be here having fun and have a horse to love on instead of being at home missing Daddy.”

Each year the event grows in size, and for those who have attended previously, it is a day they look forward to each year.

Gary Shepherd has helped organize Horseback Heroes every year, in addition to hosting the event at his ranch. He said the success of the event is due to the volunteers, who he said have as much fun as the kids.

“Everybody likes doing this,” said Shepherd. “Every year what we try to do is never turn a child away.”

There are many people who ensure that this day happens. Nearly 100 volunteers from the Army and Air National Guard and outside organizations coordinate to make the event happen. Those organizations included Guardian Roofing and Sheet Metal, Covey Creek Cattle Company, Twin Pines Ranch, Silver Wind Stables, and 4H. Additional volunteers provided homemade ice-cream and various cobblers made from the chuck wagon using cast-iron and open fires.

“We have had thousands of Oklahoma Guard members deploy since 9/11, and we want to show the families affected that we support them,” said Brig. Gen. Louis Wilham, interim adjutant general for Oklahoma.

Horseback Heroes will continue for all of these families to have a day to enjoy ranching activities and meet military families like theirs.

“Finding new friends is the best part about today,” said Kristen Buck.

The dust settled at the end of the day with recognition of people who helped with the event and a thank you to the families in attendance, for their service alongside their service members.