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Blind veterans fish, ride horses at Dayspring Therapeutic Equestrian Center in Marshall

By Bridget Ortigo
July 9, 2017 at 4 a.m.

Blind and deaf U.S. military veteran Daniel Lee, left, and veteran John Alstork, right, of the Blind Veterans of Overton Brooks Veteran Affairs Hospital in Shreveport use sign language to talk to each other at Marshall's Dayspring Therapeutic Equestrian Center on Saturday.

Legally blind U.S. Navy veteran Donna Jones couldn't wait for her chance to get on a horse Saturday at the Dayspring Therapeutic Equestrian Center in Marshall.

Jones, 55, and nine other members of the Blind Veterans of Overton Brooks Veterans Affairs Hospital in Shreveport, as well as their spouses, took some time Saturday to socialize, fish and ride horses at the Marshall center.

"This is the second year we've come out here," Jones said Saturday. "We look forward to coming out here. After the stroke at 49, I lost my sight and can only kind of see light and colors. I like coming out here for the camaraderie with my friends, my brothers and sisters in arms."

Jones said the center caters to their needs and individual disabilities.

"It's like going back in time to a simpler time out here," she said. "They are kind and they wait on us hand and foot. Most people don't usually give us the time of day. We can laugh about silly things out here and it's not a big deal. When I came out here last year, it was the first time I had been on a horse in 30 years."

Jones snapped pictures on her iPad, a gift from the VA hospital, as her friends petted the center's horse named "Walker."

"He's a big old horse," blind and deaf U.S. military veteran Daniel Lee said as he petted Walker. "He's strong."

Lee too couldn't wait for his turn atop the horse.

The center's Executive Director Sheryl Fogle said bringing joy to people through horses is the reason she founded her place.

"I was an U.S. Army brat growing up - my father was a medic in the Korean War," she said. "When he came home, he suffered from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), but back then, nobody knew what it was called."

Fogle said her father suffered five nervous breakdowns while she was growing up, the last the most damaging.

"He was placed in a mental institution and given shock treatments," she said. "After that, he gave up. He was on heavy medications and he died young of a heart attack at 56. But, I believe God can make beauty out of ashes."

So from the ashes, Fogle has founded Dayspring Therapeutic Equestrian Center, a place that helps not only PTSD veterans, but children and adults with other disabilities, as well as residents of assisted living facilities. The center also provides private riding lessons.

"The horses are actually the therapists," she said. "They can sense when they're needed. We have 10 horses here and horses are herd animals; they are very social."

Fogle said for those who can't walk, the horses become their legs.

"That movement makes new motor pathways in the brain and their mind can improve," she said. "We've had autistic children that have never spoken and after coming here and riding the horses for some time, they have gone to school and said their first words. Riding horses also releases endorphins."

Fogle said it's a simple act, riding a horse, but it's beautiful.

The center relies on private donations and scholarships for clients that cannot afford the therapy.

The center opened its doors to the Blind Veterans organization after VIST (Visual Impairment Services Team at the Department of Veterans Affairs) Coordinator Broderick Burks reached out to them.

"This is all free for them and I provide transportation here," he said. "This is just a good time for them to come out, meet new friends, socialize and have fun."

Burks said the organization serves all branches of military veterans who are legally blind.

"This is a great opportunity for them to come out and fish, ride horses, hang out with friends - things they used to do before they lost their sight," he said.

For more information about Dayspring Therapeutic Equestrian Center or to donate, visit www.dayspringtec.com.

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