ST. LOUIS – Around 20 U.S. military veterans die by suicide each day, according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
Every year, some veterans ride 20 miles on horseback in memory of veterans who die from suicide. It’s called “Trail to Zero”. For the first time, that ride included a 20-mile stop in St. Louis.
“I served in the United States Marine Corps from 2011 to 2015,” Benjamin Jalove said. “I got out in 2015, and I got diagnosed with PTSD and adaptive disorder. I had trouble adapting to society.”
Benjamin Jalove struggles with suicidal thoughts on a regular basis, but he said a call from BraveHearts’ President and COO Meggan Hill McQueeney gave him hope and changed his life.
The nonprofit prides themselves in being the largest professional association for therapeutic horsemanship in the country. They serve veterans at no cost.
“Each and every one of these horses have touched my heart in a way that I can’t explain,” Jalove said.
More than a dozen veterans rode 20 miles Saturday through St. Louis. They started at the Principia School in Town & Country and made stops at Tilles Park, the VFW Post 3500, St. Louis Mounted Police Barn, St. Louis University, Forest Park and finished their ride Saturday evening at Kiener Plaza.
“Each mile is dedicated to the one veteran that’s no longer here,” Jalove said.
The ride was all to raise awareness about veteran suicide and the need for improved mental health services. “Trail to Zero” is also meant to bring attention to how equine services can help veterans cope with some of the traumas they face after serving our country.
“It’s a non-conventional style of therapy,” Jalove explained. “I can be in an arena with a horse on horse and just let my feelings go, it’s nice and relaxed. He feeds off my energy.”
The growing epidemic of veteran suicide is a mission BraveHearts is working to hinder. The nonprofit’s equine services provide emotional, cognitive, social and physical benefits to military veterans.
“We’re celebrating the riders today,” John McCadden said. “All of them have come through some amount of training to be able to be on this ride. Most are veterans, and the reason I say that is that we have a Gold Star father with us today.”
“Trail to Zero” is a multi-city tour that started in 2017. This was the first time BraveHearts hosted this ride in St. Louis. It came together in part because of the support of the America’s Birthday Parade. McCadden is a committee member.
“I’m just so proud of our organization and the BraveHearts organization and just very pleased and honored to be part of this,” he said.
The nonprofit is asking the public to help spread the word about equine assisted services, consider donating to its mission or joining its volunteer-ride. For more information, click here.