Operation Wild Horse


In honor of Veteran's Day, we visited Operation Wild Horse, a non-profit organization led by Patti Gruber in Bull Valley, Illinois that partners wild mustangs and burros with U.S. military veterans. With over 35 years of equestrian experience, Patti wanted to find a way to combine her love and passion for horses with her appreciation of the sacrifices of U.S. military members and veterans. After two years of planning, a partnership was formed with Veterans R&R in February 2017, and Operation Wild Horse was formed. This non-profit's mission is to engage Veterans and Active Duty Military in an active community where trust and relationships are built, and to be a bridge that helps connect those they serve with other great organizations. Operation Wild Horse aims to provide a safe and effective Military pillar program built by a community of Veterans and Military Families, enabling a life-changing partnership between wild horses, Veterans, Military Families, and their collective support network. Serving those in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, primarily those in Lake and McHenry counties, Operation Wild Horse hosts over 1500 sessions a year. A session might be a one-on-one lesson, a group camp, or simply an afternoon grooming the horses. Experiences at Operation Wild Horse are tailored to each veteran's specific needs, and Patti hopes to provide a safe space for each veteran to bond with horses, burros, and other veterans. 

With more than 80,000 Wild American Mustang horses on federal lands and more than 50,000 in holding facilities, U.S. veterans and military members are not the only ones in need. Each of the wild horses and burros and Operation Wild Horse have been rescued, each of them now with healthy, positive outcomes at Operation Wild Horse, building relationships with Veterans and Military families and working proactively to reduce the rate of veteran suicide.

Through discussions with program participants, Operation Wild Horse found that many shared a consistent challenge: that many Veteran Servicing Organizations (VSO’s) were offering services described as “catch- all,” “one size fits all,” or were “too corporate feeling.” Many felt this approach disregarded their individuality and differences of past service to our country. They sought an organization that would allow them to have a voice and be responsible for how, when, to what extent, and at what pace they seek service or help post-Military. Listening to this need, the Operation Wild Horse curriculum consists of 6 platforms, 5 categories, and 32 services with 100’s of hands-on activities that assist with Military service-related challenges, such as (but not limited to): PTSD, TBI, moral injury, hyper-vigilance, transition and reintegration issues, deployment, military sexual trauma, depression, anxiety, and relationship or communication challenges. 

It is the goal of the Operation Wild Horse Leadership and the Veterans and Military families that built this program 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.

When the Prairie Fire team visited, we caught up with the members of the women veteran's camp, a weekly program that allows women veterans to safely share their experiences, build friendships, and form a partnership with their mustang or burro.

Veteran Resources