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Jennifer Reynolds, Patti Gruber, and Jim Welch

I Am US Equestrian: Veterans & Horses, Finding Their Herd

Posted: November 2021
Length: 06:15
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About This Video

Trigger Warning: The video and text discuss depression and suicide.

Western dressage rider Jennifer Reynolds of Spring Grove, Ill., served in the United States Air Force for eight years, following in the footsteps of her father and two uncles, and describes it as “the best decision [she] ever made”. As an adult, Jennifer was introduced to the horse world through her girlfriend who competes in dressage and Western dressage. Together, they attended the Western Dressage Association of America World Championship Show, where Jennifer was introduced to Patti Gruber and Jimmy Welch of Operation Wild Horse.

Operation Wild Horse (OWH), a program of Veterans R&R 501(c)3 provides a safe community where veterans, active-duty military, and families can build a significant Mustang/human bond that allows barriers to fall, communication to enhance, and trust to form. This approach has time and time again resulted in the formation of life-changing partnerships via Mustang assisted learning, military service member and veteran reintegration, Mustang-human relationships, and Mustang therapeutic riding. With the slogan “Mustangs helping veterans helping Mustangs”, the goal is to expand Operation Wild Horse across the country so that more Mustangs, veterans and military families have the opportunity to build a life-changing partnership, additionally providing a significant reduction to the downward spiral resulting in 20 veteran suicides a day. Two icons of freedom and independence, the American Mustang and American Veteran work together to save each other.

In conversation during a riding lesson, Jennifer and Patti talked through the opportunity for a riding program for female veterans, creating a community to share like-experiences that are unique to women in the military who share a love for horses. Since being introduced to the sport in 2018, Jen has become a horse owner, competed in a few horse shows, and was the first female to carry the flag in the OWH mounted color guard on a wild Mustang.

About The Expert

Jennifer Reynolds, Patti Gruber, and Jim Welch

Photos: TLC Photography and Elissa Dresden

Jennifer Reynolds
Jennifer is a United States Air Force veteran who discovered the world of horses in her adult life. Together with Patti Gruber, she conceived the idea for a woman-veterans’ riding group at Operation Wild Horse, creating a community to share like-experiences that are unique to women in the military who share a love for horses. Now a Western dressage rider, Jennifer was the first female to carry the flag in the OWH mounted color guard on a wild Mustang.

Patti Gruber
An accomplished horsewoman of 35 years, Patti is the Program Director of Operation Wild Horse, and is committed to improving the lives of veterans and military families through their connection, growth and learning experiences with horses. Patti is known for her success in the Dressage arena with her Mustang stallion Padre’, who was the first and only wild horse to qualify, compete, and win at Dressage at Devon.

Jim Welch
A Veteran himself, Jim Welch is the President and founding member of Veterans R&R. After working with a group of Veterans who were seeking alternative treatments for PTSD, Jim realized a need was not being met. He envisioned an organization dedicated to providing veterans with educational and outreach programs that will help to enhance veterans’ productivity and quality of life. Jim’s vision for Veterans R&R is first to form a community so that the 50% of veterans who do not actively seek help have a place to go where help finds them.