"I would not be this far along in my life if it were not for everyone involved with the EquiCenter. I have only thanks and gratitude.”
Hello. My name is Lyndon Villone and I’d like to tell you the story of how the EquiCenter is helping me to rebuild my life. I am a Marine and during my four years of active duty, I served as an Amphibious Assault Vehicle crew chief. In other words, my days and nights were spent in charge of a 28-ton multimillion-dollar vehicle and its crew, patrolling for explosives, weapons, and enemy combatants during two tours in Iraq. After an honorable discharge from active duty in February 2009, I was dropped off back in the civilian world with four years of IRR (Inactive Ready Reserve) time left. Basically, the Marines could call me back in if they needed me, but unless they did, I was free to live my life as I wanted.
That initially felt so free and sounded so good, but I was soon to learn things about the transition, and about myself that brought neither freedom nor relief. I had a hard time adjusting back into civilian life. My friends said I wasn’t the same, and I found myself having inner battles with anger, short-term memory loss, and abrasiveness. I was still able to maintain a 3.5 GPA while attending college but then things really began to unravel for me. Between 2010 and the end of 2012, I lost eight of my close brothers in arms – including some to suicide -- all of whom I served with during multiple tours in Iraq. I failed out of school and began cutting everyone out of my life as I now dealt with not only adjustment issues but also severe depression and post-traumatic stress. It was at that time that I was lucky enough to get my Husky puppy, Ice, who, along with my girlfriend, was my life. I eventually pushed her away, too, leaving only Ice by my side. Without him to care for and love, I would have taken my life. I was at an all-time low coming into 2013 and it wasn’t until I got involved in the Wounded Warrior Project and the services they offered that I started finding my way. I am so grateful they introduced me to the EquiCenter.
I started coming to the EquiCenter in early May 2013. By this time, I was regaining some motivation and my attitude toward life was changing. After two years of depression, sitting around doing nothing but staring at the paint on the walls, I was ready to live life again. I just needed to find myself again, and my new identity. Getting involved in the EquiCenter provided that for me. While I was starting to become fit again, and slowly conquer some of my PTS symptoms, I still needed that extra boost and a sense of belonging. I immediately felt accepted and cared about by the staff and volunteers at the EquiCenter. They understood when I was feeling down and had to call in. I’d tell them I was not going to take a lesson today, but they encouraged me to just come out if I needed to get away and enjoy the day around the horses. Numerous times I took them up on that, just coming to the farm to enjoy the weather, horses, beautiful surroundings and get away for a while.
I developed bonds with different horses that took my mind off of everything and learning proper horsemanship and the discipline that you have to follow to take care of the horse kept my mind focused and occupied. When I got to ride a horse, every thought in the world would go away except what needed to be done at the moment to ride that horse the right way. The instructor always makes me feel really comfortable but doesn’t let me get away with much. I like to be challenged and she knows that.
If all of this hadn’t been enough to help me breakthrough and find my niche again, Jonathan Friedlander took a special interest in my future. I told him what having Ice meant to me and that I want to help my fellow Veterans by establishing my own canine-assisted therapy program one day. The EquiCenter has helped me to get hands-on experience by getting me involved with The Mission Continues Fellowship Program. With that fellowship, I will be a key team member in establishing a canine pilot program at the EquiCenter.
I have lost 45lbs, re-established connections with my family and friends, and found a new motivation for life. I would not be this far along in my life if it had not been for the efforts of everyone involved with the EquiCenter. I have only thanks and gratitude. Won’t you please take a moment to help everyone who turns to the EquiCenter by sending a gift of support today?
With sincere thanks,
Lyndon and Ice