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Horse Ranch and Botanical Garden Gives Veterans Peace of Mind

By Leah BouRamia

It’s almost sunset on a Tuesday. Kicking up dust along an unpaved road in the woods of Foster, I’m beginning to think my GPS is just making things up. But the American flags mounted on trees followed by the wooden shipping palettes painted with the Stars and Stripes tells me I’ve come to the right place. I see a horse corral, beautiful plantings, a farm cat climbing a stonewall and a woman in riding boots smiling and waving. Instantly, I can feel it. This is a really special place.

Founded in 2014, the Dare to Dream ranch was the brainchild of founder Karen Dalton, a certified health coach who knew that with one in eight military personnel experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there was a tremendous need for an integrated approach to wellness targeting vets and their families. According to Rhode Island has the second-highest number of deployments per capita in the nation, according to military records. With 90,000 veterans in the State of Rhode Island, it was clear this state had a particularly high need for therapeutic services.

It started when she noticed her peers in health coaching and wellness writing books, supporting causes that mattered to them; making an impact. She continually asked herself, what would her impact be? She turned to journaling to work it out. Gradually, she realized her passion for supporting military personnel and their families stemmed from her experience growing up as the daughter of a Marine. Knowing the emotional anguish and physical trauma possible in the military community, in addition to her training as a health and wellness coach and educator, she had a unique understanding of the importance of therapeutic opportunities for the people who serve and their families.

Karen recalls with fondness how gardening and being outside had made a difference for her growing up. With her professional training, she understood how healing it could be to be outside, and in particular, to interact with horses. “It is therapeutic,” says Karen, “and it forces you to be in the moment, to be mindful. You have to be in the moment to interact effectively with a horse because they are almost always in that ‘fight or flight’ mindset—you can’t be.”

Her dream to provide this kind of holistic wellness experience for vets and their families is reflected in the beginning of the Dare to Dream Mission Statement: “To provide a multifaceted Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) program for U.S. Military veterans, and their families…” The particular menu of services reflects the ailments common in the military community: anxiety, depression, mild traumatic brain injury and sexual trauma are known concerns in the community, not to mention PTSD, which is rampant. Dare to Dream offers a range of services to treat these ailments: equine therapy, fly fishing, cooking and nutrition education, support finding work or going back to school, gardening, yoga and woodworking are all offered to the people who seek the help of Karen and her ranch.

“How do folks pay for these services? They can’t possibly be covered by health insurance…can they?”

Karen says that although health insurance does not currently cover the services, she has been successful in fundraising for the ranch, holding events regularly, including the upcoming Newport Fashion Week event on Oct. 9 and the Newport Navy Choristers Christmas concert on Dec. 9 (for more information, check out www.daretodreamranch.org).

The scope and regularity of her fundraising events is impressive and necessary because she is committed to providing services to vets at no charge. As serviceman Billy Jones is quoted on the website, “No veteran should be cast aside without help. As veterans, we have put our lives on the line for this country and too many are forgotten or lost in the system. If veterans don’t take care of each other, nobody else will.”

Karen shows me around her property, first to scope out her horses, who all appear to be good friends, snorting and walking over to her immediately. She even has miniature horses living alongside a standard-sized horse with one blue eye, named (of course) Blue. After walking past a generous vegetable garden, Karen introduces me to her three white goats– kids, really— Fric, Frac and Fred. They eat leaves out of my hand, and seem to love being pet, “I bottle-fed them, don’t worry– they are very gentle,” she says. Indeed these are probably the most careful and affectionate goats I’ve ever seen, gingerly eating tender clover out of my palm and nuzzling me for more with velvety pink noses. Between the approachability of the horses, Karen’s warm yet straightforward demeanor, and now the snuggly goats, it is clear that the Dare to Dream Ranch is a place to heal.