On May 11, 2017, the peace and tranquility of the Muddy Creek Greenway was tragically disturbed when three horses were allegedly shot by teenagers accused of stealing cars, then driving down a stretch of the 3-mile greenway. Russell Robinson, an Army veteran, is the owner of Cisco, who was injured along with another horse, Dixie; but sadly, the third horse, Jelly, was killed. For Russ, little did he know, but this was a defining moment, when in the midst of dealing with tragedy, he found his “way” in life and how to give back to two things he is very passionate about…horses and helping veterans. The road which led him to where he is today has been a long one, to say the least.
Russ grew up in many places over his life, with his high school years spent in Durham, NC, and eventually joined the Army on October 17, 2000, with his first deployment to Iraq in September 2003. To say conditions were primitive is an understatement for Russ and his unit in the Ramadi/Fallujah area. “The war was early at the time I was there, so I slept on top of my Humvee, and baby wipes were our only source of hygiene for ten months, until we got a shower trailer with water. Canvas tents with wood-pallet floors arrived for our housing. It’s funny how this became my ‘normal,’ and everyone back home thought it was terrible,” recalled Russ. With his second deployment to Iraq in 2009-2010, Russ had the honor of accompanying the bodies of three soldiers from his unit to Baghdad as they made their way back to the States. Russell’s return home brought a disconnect with others, depression, PTSD, and a divorce from his wife of 10 years. War takes its toll on everyone in some way. Continuing on a path he thought was to be his calling, Russ finished his Masters in Theology. He believed he would become a military chaplain or a pastor, but with his personal life in shambles, he drifted from his faith. It was a brush with death that brought Russ back to his beliefs.
After becoming a police officer in Statesville, NC, one night after his shift, Russ was nearly killed in a car wreck. The investigating officer who arrived at the crash “knew” there had to be a fatality, yet Russ lived, and his trauma physicians felt the only thing that saved him was is body armor, which he always wore in the car on his hour-long commute home. Knowing that there was no reason that he wasn’t killed, Russ had a different perspective and believed God had a specific purpose for him to fulfill.
“After my accident, I would sit in my wheelchair in the pasture with the horses; and just being around them was therapeutic. My wife, Kristin, and I board our horses at a farm that backs up to the Muddy Creek Greenway. When the shootings of the horses happened, we lost our feeling of safety and security. The people who frequented the greenway were seen as a threat, since we had no understanding of who would do this or why. Kristin and I shed countless tears over the whole thing, especially the loss of Jelly,” Russ said. With his military service and what he had experienced ever present in his mind, coming home and not fitting in, and the incident at the greenway, a lot was weighing heavy on Russ. Little did Russ know, his “calling” was just around the corner.
While at a BLM (Bureau of Land Management) mustang adoption event, Russ learned about the Mustang Heritage Foundation’s veteran program. The more Russ heard, the more he wanted to be involved with this organization. “After researching the group and talking with the program director, my heart was soaring and my mind at peace, knowing how unbelievably perfect God’s timing is, and my life’s mission is crystal clear: working with mustangs and veterans. With the help of the Mustang Heritage Foundation, military veterans choose a BLM mustang, wild and untouched by humans, and transform the horse in approximately six weeks from ‘wild to mild’ by working directly with the mustangs, while learning marketable vocational skills and gaining on-the-job training for a future occupation in the equine industry, if they choose. The mustangs are available for adoption for the veteran participant, or placed into private care,” commented Russ.
The Mustang Heritage Foundation is passionate about getting the horses in government holding facilities adopted and pairing them with veterans, which helps both learn to trust and is great therapy for the veterans. This past October, Russ attended training in Texas, hopefully to bring the program, or a form of it, to our area. “I am anticipating getting to work on the details at the first of this year. It will be on a first-come, first-serve basis to veterans based on the availability. I won’t turn anyone away who is physically able to participate. Training with mustangs can be physically demanding, but I am confident, if their heart is in it, they can do it. The horses and veterans share a lot of similarities…horses were ripped from their herds and the soldiers taken out of war zones, both expected to fit into regular society after trauma. The horses we’ve been dealing with are 100 percent wild and just like soldiers: both have to be hyper-vigilant all the time. Put those two together—veterans and horses—and they understand each other immediately,” said Russ.
For information on The Mustang Heritage Foundation, visit mustangheritagefoundation.org/.