Owners of Warhorse Ranch transform historic home to help veterans and others deal with trauma
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Mike and Valery Lozano are wanting to open their home, a historic North Routt County ranch, to those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma victims seeking support.
The couple has been working to get things in order on the 35-acre Warhorse Ranch, located about 30 minutes north of Steamboat Springs on Routt County Road 56. The idea for the ranch is to provide healing and strength through equine therapy in weeklong retreats, which the Lozanos hope to start lining up in summer 2021.
“We have established it already,” Valery said. “We moved here in November, so there was no way that we could get it all together and have retreats this summer.”
Programs will be based on the EAGALA model, which is all groundwork-based, so if people are afraid of horses or have never ridden “they don’t worry about that,” Valery said. “People can work through their traumas, they work through their stressors and they work through their angers with the animal.”
The EAGALA Model, a global leader for equine-assisted psychotherapy and personal development, uses a team approach that includes a licensed, credentialed mental health professional, a qualified equine specialist and horses working together with the client in an arena at all times. The couple will be working with area therapists, including Steve Walls and Roger Reynolds, to develop and implement the programs at the ranch.
Valery, who holds degrees in criminal justice and psychology, is currently working on her master’s in forensic psychology. She also will be working alongside the other therapists.
The Warhorse Ranch is hoping to offer services at no cost to those who want to come. Donations and assistance are welcome at warhorseranch.org or an account for the Warhorse Ranch has been set up at Yampa Valley Bank in Steamboat Springs.
Mike said the program is also hoping to build partnerships in the community that will allow the retreats to offer other activities like fishing and kayaking.
Mike served as a U.S. Marine for 14 years and earned the Navy and Marine Corps Heroic Achievement Medal Navy & Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Combat Valor for his actions helping rescue a disabled tank and crew during operation Iraqi Freedom. It’s one of the things Mike points to in a career full of heated action in places like Iraq, Bosnia and Haiti. He is proud of his service, but it came with a price — an ongoing battle with PTSD that has impacted his memory and left him dealing with a long list of symptoms.
After years in the Marine Corps, Mike, who continued to serve with the Air Force Reserve. He went to work for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security where he worked alongside Valery. The two were married 11 years ago and have seen their share of difficulties.
In 2011, Mike had been battling alcoholism and reached a breaking point. Valery insisted that he seek help. At one point in that journey, Mike turned to Wounded Warriors, which introduced him and Valery to the power of equine therapy during a retreat in Park City, Utah.
“They brought in all these horses that have never seen each other, and we had our therapists there. We watched them create their own pecking order, and they compared that group to us,” Mike said.
He said the veterans in the group all came to the sessions with issues, and the horses used also had issues. In the end, the veterans were able to build a bond with the animals and as a group.
“They taught us how to relax and how to deal with our stress,” Mike said of the sessions, which also included time skiing at nearby resorts and a trip down the bobsled run built near Park City for the 2002 Olympic games. “It was an awesome experience. We’ve kept in contact with that same group of people, and all the veterans that were there. We had never met each other before that, but now we’re still like a family.”
It also marked a turning point in Mike’s personal life. Things started to improve slowly but many of his battles persisted. He continued to seek help from doctors and specialists in Arizona, where he was living at the time. In 2018, he was deemed fully disabled and was no longer able to work. That same year his ex-wife and mother of his two eldest children died after a long battle with cancer.
Finally, an MRI revealed that Mike had a brain arteriovenous malformation, or AVM, and doctors suggested that he have brain surgery in February 2019 to remove the tangle of abnormal blood vessels connecting arteries and veins in the brain found to be causing many of his problems. The surgery was successful for the most part, but Mike continues to deal with the effect of PTSD to this day. Valery left her job with the government after Mike’s surgery as she felt like she needed to be home to care for Mike and the family’s four children.
But the couple agrees that their experience with the Wounded Warriors project has inspired them to want to help other veterans dealing with many of the same issues Mike has experienced.
Pursuing their dream of starting the Warhorse Ranch is a big reason Mike and Valery moved to the Steamboat area last year. Mike said the tranquil setting is the perfect place to help those suffering from trauma discover the therapy and healing that comes from working with horses.
The couple is hoping to begin offering the program next summer to veterans, law enforcement, first responders and anyone dealing with trauma at no charge. They are hoping to find support for the program through their website and other funding options.
“We don’t want them to have to take anything out of their pocket for this. It’s going to come from us, donations or sponsors,” Valery said. “We are a family that’s been through a lot. We started over and we have been forward, and this is an opportunity to give back while we’re moving forward. That’s what’s helping us heal.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Learning to ski was as mandatory in the Schnackenberg household as reading and learning to tie shoes.