Andy Brown ’72 has ridden horses since his childhood. He describes his connection to them with an old saying: “The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.”
But not until a few years ago did he think about using horses to heal. It happened when he met Patrick Benson, who values horses, like Brown does, and is an Army veteran who served in the infantry from 1998 to 2004.
“I looked at the armed forces and I realized how shabbily I felt that they were being treated,” says Brown. “I realized the significance of what horses could do for people.”
In 2013 Brown, with his wife Patricia and Benson, founded War Horses for Veterans, a nonprofit based in Kansas City focused on providing community and networking opportunities for combat veterans. The organization seeks to foster personal growth and reflection through free classes on horsemanship.
“The whole vision was to use this as a way to have people realize that whatever was bothering them, there was going to be a support system to help them get through their anxiety, and that once they left us, they always had a home to come back to,” says Brown.
For the first few years, Brown self-funded the program and held the classes on his own property. Everything was outdoors, which was tough in cold winters and hot summers. Then earlier this year the organization was able to build a large indoor facility, at the same time introducing more classes like culinary and health training.
Because of travel difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic, the nonprofit’s efforts have shifted to focus more locally, bringing in Greater Kansas City first responders. Since May it has served 350 participants. Brown hopes to improve access to the program, bringing it to veterans and first responders in other areas of the United States instead of flying them to Kansas City. To do that, the organization is creating an endowment to make sure it has the funds it needs in the long term. “We put away enough money now that we feel very comfortable if we die tomorrow, we leave this thing in good shape,” says Brown.
Reflecting on how War Horses for Veterans has grown over time, Brown recalled one group of Vietnam veterans who participated.
“Once they got together with a common purpose and were able to feed off each other, the feelings that they shared at the time when they were here, gave them such a tremendous feeling of calm and relief to this day,” says Brown. “I think when you see that, you’re going to see how important this organization has become to so many people.”
Today Brown is less involved in day-to-day operations, preferring not to be the face of the organization.
“I feel like our role is in the background, being there for a support system,” says Brown. “Make sure that everyone knows, at the end of the day…they've always got my wife and I they can count on to be there.”