Tucked behind the county line between Moore and Lee counties is a small farm where Soldiers can come to heal.
Hearts 4 Heroes United States, or H4HUS, is a nonprofit organization that provides equine and canine-assisted therapy to current and former service members. H4HUS’ goal is to help these veterans overcome a variety of physical and psychological injuries.
The journey to helping Soldiers heal began for founder Key Burns after a personal loss.
“He was my farrier, my best friend … a captain in the Marine Corps after 9/11; he was a Silver Star recipient … He was a tortured soul and he became a farrier and it made him feel better to be with the horses, to solve problems with horses,” Burns said.
“I take this picture of him to every event we do and everybody knows him … I miss him every day.”
H4HUS began in 2013 in New York, where they currently service four Veterans Affairs hospitals. They focus on Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association programming.
“(EGALA) is work that is done unmounted on the ground and it gives opportunities for people to be with the horses at liberty under the care of a licensed mental health care provider so they can work on whatever they want to work on … all of our program is client-based solution focused,” said Burns.
In addition to the EGALA programs, H4HUS also provides canine therapy in the form of service dogs, all of which are rescued from North Carolina kill shelters.
“We try to get the dogs out of kill shelters … we train them to the AKC good citizens test,” Burns explained.
H4HUS have adopted out 36 service dogs to Soldiers and veterans with a range of functions to assist and help mitigate their owner’s PTSD symptoms. They have trainers who help the rescued dogs perform specific tasks such as turning on lights, and locating and escorting their humans to the nearest exit when becoming overwhelmed by crowds.
Here in North Carolina, the small H4HUS farm is a place of calm for Fort Bragg Soldiers.
Referred to H4HUS by a friend, one Fort Bragg Soldier explained that he volunteers his time helping with the horses by feeding, watering and helping to train them.
“To me, it’s a place where I can come and relax,” he said. “If you are stressed out all the time just doing deployments, coming back, doing deployments and coming back, then your mental health can’t be too good this really … lets you reset and I think that’s extremely important.”
All services and support offered at H4HUS are completely free of charge and Burns keeps the farms open 24 hours a day for Soldiers who need to take moment away.
“Dealing especially with active-duty, when they come back, this is the first place they come and they can come anytime. There’s no hours here … I’ll come out here and do night check at 12:30 (a.m.) and they’ll be out here standing in the barn and they’ll be brushing horses” said Burns.
Rachaell Dockery, H4HUS’ facility operations director, is a PhD student in clinical psychology with a master’s degree in military psychology and manages the property. She volunteers with special programs and is EGLALA-certified and a riding instructor.
“I like to say that we are rescuing and saving two lives at the same time. All our animals are rescued from abandonment, kill shelters, meat trucks. They all have their own story and then you get the military who have been deployed in combat and then they come together and kind of learn to trust again with each other,” explained Dockery.