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Healing on horseback

Ride at Pa. ranch part of Marines' recuperation

Ride at Pa. ranch part of Marines' recuperation

August 09, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

WARFORDSBURG, PA. - The healing process for a pair of combat-wounded Marines left their Washington-area hospital and moved to the Appalachian Mountains on Tuesday morning.

Sgt. Todd Herman and Lance Cpl. Tony Gilliard accepted an invitation to visit Buck Valley Ranch and participate in a 4-mile trail ride on gelding Appaloosas named Percy and Champ.

"I've been wanting to do this for years. ... I think it was great to be out there," Herman said to ranch owners Leon and Nadine Fox.

Horseback riding provides physical therapy for the injured by enhancing a sense of balance, and building and massaging muscle, said Mike Benesch, who brought the Marines to his sister's ranch. He operates the Heroes on Horseback program in connection with the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

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A horse-and-rider relationship also benefits the mind, according to Benesch and Nadine Fox.

"Horseback riding builds confidence. It makes them feel good they have control," she said.

Herman and Gilliard were excited to be outdoors and return to Pennsylvania, the home state for both of them.

"I think the fresh air's gotta be the best part," Herman said, adding that it cleared his head.

Herman had never ridden a horse before, but Gilliard had.

"I used to ride when I was little. My mom's friend taught me," Gilliard said.

He and Herman met at the National Naval Medical Center earlier this year. Both are outpatients and live on the base. Herman hopes to complete his recovery there later this year, while Gilliard is looking to do the same in 2007.

Herman, 26, a member of the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, served overseas in 2003 and 2004. He spent his second tour of duty in Fallujah, Iraq.

Gilliard, 21, a member of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, Gulf Co., served more than five months in an area 30 miles northwest of Fallujah.

Both men started the bulk of their recovery in Germany.

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