By Jessie Bengoa

Contributing Writer

Duty. Honor. Country. From the outside, it’s difficult to fully comprehend the level of purpose, dedication and drive personified by U.S. soldiers in combat. Their level of personal sacrifice is inconceivable to those of us not in uniform. Separated from the families they love, servicemen and women come to form an unbreakable bond.

The transition from active-duty military to civilian is very often abrupt, taking soldiers accustomed to a high-intensity existence with clearly defined missions, and placing them immediately into the somewhat foreign environment of home.

The sheer magnitude of the challenge is often overlooked, but Patrick Benson, co-founder of War Horses for Veterans, has experienced it and come out the other side.

Benson recently came to visit the Platinum Performance offices in Buellton and learn more about how they can partner in future clinics.

“The War Horses for Veterans program is the perfect embodiment of the quote ‘There’s something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.’ My entire life I have watched my family members heal horses, and it’s very rewarding to help support dedicated individuals like Patrick Benson and his team, who are healing people with horses,” said Mark Herthel, president and CEO of Platinum Performance.

Benson isn’t a typical horse trainer. Combat veteran, motivator, program director, barn hand — the man plays innumerable roles, but he isn’t big on labels. He is the visionary, founder and elbow grease behind a program that is empowering his fellow veterans with a renewed sense of self and taste of the camaraderie they so desperately crave.

Benson founded War Horses for Veterans, a program dedicated to restoring the power and purpose within veterans by way of the horse. Based in Stilwell, Kansas, the program is now in its fourth year, and has changed the lives of nearly 200 veterans who have stepped onto the ranch and into the saddle.

 With co-founders Andy and Pat Brown and a staff made up primarily of veterans, Benson provides a peaceful break from everyday life challenges, giving veterans the opportunity to clear their minds, share stories in a ‘judgment-free space’ and enjoy good food, high-caliber horses and a tranquil environment with fellow veterans.

Each round of the program is three days, with every expense from travel to meals and lodging covered entirely by the donors who share Benson’s commitment to veterans.

“I tell the veterans, ‘What’s three days of your life?’ That’s not much of a commitment to try something that could change everything.”

And change everything it does. Whether a veteran is a seasoned horseman or touching a horse for the first time, War Horses for Veterans somehow seems to end each three-day run with a group of comrades at the same level: connected, refreshed, steady and looking ahead with renewed vigor.

“To a veteran, war is much easier than everyday civilian life,” Benson said. “You have your mission, you have your task, you’re with your team and you have a clear objective. It can be scary … but you know what you need to do.

Through War Horses for Veterans, Benson’s mission is to restore the confidence and sense of purpose within veterans, helping give them the tools to thrive in life and a taste of the brotherhood they deeply miss. Benson connects on a very real level using the tool that transformed his life, the horse.

While deployed in Iraq, Benson thought about his future and how he’d parlay his love for horses into a career after he hung up his uniform for good. He wasn’t a lifelong rider, but he had a natural talent and knew definitively that the view of his future would be on horseback.

Benson’s strategy was to immerse himself in work with intense focus. He completed the John and Josh Lyons program to learn the nuances of being a successful clinician. He would then spend the next decade working tirelessly training horses, showing at every level and transforming his natural talents on horseback into classically trained experience.

First came reiners and rope horses, followed by dressage horses, jumpers and eventers. His boundless curiosity crossed disciplines and afforded him opportunities to ride, train and show in both a Western saddle and an English seat.

“About eight years after I left the military, I noticed smells started triggering some things,” he recalled. “I now know that it was the beginnings of PTSD, but back then I didn’t even know what that was.”

Benson reached out to a close friend with whom he had served. It was the first time he had talked about his memories from combat since he’d left the military. He found that he missed that level of connection desperately.

Soon after, Benson was giving a clinic and was approached by an older man who complimented his work with the horses. “He told me, ‘You did a really good job fixing a pretty rank horse, but you’re not even realizing that they’re fixing you.’ I later learned that he was a Vietnam vet. He got it. He knew,” Benson said.

Over the next several years, it became more apparent that his chosen vocation was a lifeboat, constantly teaching him positivity, compassion and control over his emotions with the horse as his vehicle for recovery.


This article is an excerpt from Jessie Bengoa’s story in the Platinum Performance Magazine. It has since been adapted for the Star. To read the entire story, log onto and click on articles.