Veterans ride horseback in Bull Valley to fight against military veteran suicide

Next ‘Trail to Zero’ events will be in Indiana and New York City

Veterans ride during a Trail to Zero event in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 2021.

Veterans gathered at the BraveHearts horse farm in Harvard on Friday morning. Horses were being led into trailers to be transported to a private Bull Valley farm for a day of riding.

This day of riding is an effort to fight against veteran suicides. About 50 veterans rode horses to kick off the “Trail to Zero” events. Next month, veterans will ride in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and New York City.

BraveHearts is a nonprofit organization based in Harvard and Poplar Grove that for more than 20 years has provided therapeutic services that connect veterans to horses. Their mission is to help veterans find a community and heal through bonding with horses.

During the annual “Trail to Zero” events, veterans ride 20 miles on horseback in honor of a statistic that says 20 veterans are lost to suicide each day. A 2022 annual report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found an average of about 17 veteran suicides a day in 2020, with more than 6,000 suicide deaths for the year.

All you need is faith, family, friends and one good horse,”

—  Andy Cumberland, veteran and horseback rider for "Trail to Zero"

Veteran Andy Cumberland is planning to ride 20 miles on horseback in New York City on Sept. 30. He said riding there will be a “final closure,” since he recently left the Army.

Years ago, after the 9/11 attacks, he saw where the World Trade Center towers once stood.

Cumberland said he was in a dark place, and connecting with BraveHearts was a “game-changer” for him. He said he finds his trouble and worries go away when he’s with the horses.

“I easily could have been another statistic in the state that I was in,” Cumberland said.

Horses have been shown to help reduce anxiety, lower heart rates and regain confidence, said Amber Eck, BraveHearts’ veteran services director.

Veteran Brandon Grodsky said that many veterans naturally bond with mustangs because they are removed from their families. It’s similar to how veterans may lose their sense of camaraderie when they leave the service.

Grodsky said he recently adopted his own mustang.

“You have a focus on a greater good, and when you leave, that all goes away,” Grodsky said.

Horses’ heart rates will sync with their rider, Grodsky said.

Cumberland said the presence of horses helps clear his mind and give him balance while reintegrating back into civilian life.

“All you need is faith, family, friends and one good horse,” Cumberland said.