Former Green Beret Rick Iannucci says his military training and wrangling background gave him the foresight needed to create an innovative horsemanship, wellness and "skill-set restructuring" program in the New Mexican desert south of Santa Fe.
A native of Pennsylvania horse country, Iannucci served with Army Special Forces from 1982 to 1992 and retired from federal service in 2005 as chief of a special-mission unit in Colombia for the U.S. Marshals Service.
At his Crossed Arrows Ranch, active-duty troops and veterans recover from physical and cognitive injuries by learning horsemanship and ranch skills as part of Horses for Heroes-New Mexico's Cowboy Up! program. The organization operates solely on financial contributions, donations and corporate partnerships.
This is not your typical therapeutic riding program. Most of the all-volunteer staff is former military. Participants spend months living and working on the ranch. It's all about "real horsemanship, from the bottom up; beginning with catching, grooming, saddling, then riding and caring for your horse," Iannucci says.
Veterans in the self-paced program build personal relationships, share stories, learn how to cope with symptoms of combat trauma and, most importantly, get on that horse and "Cowboy Up!"
Participants attend for free, referred by the Military Order of the Purple Heart Warrior Mentor Program, the Army Wounded Warrior Program, Veterans Affairs hospitals, the New Mexico Department of Veterans Services and recommendations from former Cowboy Up! veterans.