The old adage “there is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man” was put into practice Aug. 28 when Catesby Clay’s Runnymede Farm near Paris, Ky., opened its doors to combat veterans who were injured while on duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“This is a way of showing our appreciation for the sacrifices the soldiers have made on behalf of all of us,” said Clay, who added he hoped this would lead to other farms doing the same. “All of us who aren’t as engaged as these fine men and women have been are pleased to be able to do this for them.”
A bus of veterans from the Warrior Transition Battalion based at Fort Knox spent the morning with broodmares, foals, and yearlings. Following the tour, a lunch was held at the Clay family’s house. Col. Christopher Smrt of the Military Order of the Purple Heart coordinated the event.
“What we try to do at chapter levels is to find activities that will bring us in contact with current recipients (of the Purple Heart),” said Smrt. “We give them the benefit of our experience. We can give them the encouragement and camaraderie they need.”
A mixed group of young and old veterans were able to learn about the workings of a Thoroughbred breeding farm, and at the same time, bond over shared experiences.
“As a Purple Heart recipient myself, I wanted to talk to other people and be able to help them when they come back from their war,” said Willie Hunter, who received three Purple Hearts during Vietnam. “We need people to talk to them because a lot of people come back, and their mind is all messed up. That is a long road to travel by yourself.”
Although Hunter went to Runnymede to offer support for recently returning servicemen, he also enjoyed the learning experience.
“I have never been close enough to a horse to touch one,” he said. “And today, to be able to reach out and touch one, I am just speechless. I have never been this close, but I feel good about it. I am so glad I came.”
The outing came about through coincidence when Smrt and James Clay started up a conversation during a graduation ceremony at the Church of the Annunciation in Paris.
“It was a serendipitous, casual conversation,” said Smrt. “He wanted do to something for soldiers. This is a way for people that have never worn the uniform to be involved, and I think it is the best way to do it.”
The peaceful time spent among the mares and their foals offered a respite from the hardship of adjusting after returning from war.
“The farm is really nice,” said Dwight Ellis, who was injured in May while serving in Iraq. “I have never been to horse farm before so I thought it would be neat, and it was a chance to get away from the hospital.”