Heroes Rein Ranch began after the loss of services to veterans at Fort Leonard WoodThe recent closure of the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Leonard Wood, combined with the loss of a group therapy Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) social work counselor, have severely limited treatment options for soldiers suffering from the residual effects of multiple combat deployments. Fortunately, a family with deep roots in the Ozarks, going back five generations, is working to address this critical shortfall through healing horsemanship.
“This is what we’ve always done,” is how Margaret Hickman describes her family’s life of horses, horse shows and now sharing that passion through the Heroes Rein Ranch. “Wade and I both grew up in families that raised horses, followed the horse shows and for Wade that included going to college in Durant, Okla., with bull riding and rodeo. Now we are introducing people to horses and what they can do in a different way.”
Heroes Rein is a genuine operating ranch of 250 acres that also includes 35 head of Angus cattle, chickens and a couple of large, friendly dogs. Located along the Laclede/Camden county line, just outside of Stoutland, Mo., it is also where Margaret grew up. Wade’s family raised horses in Tennessee and while the two often competed in many of the same horse shows over the years, including the annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville, Tenn., they didn’t meet one another until years later.
They have three sons, Jon who lives in Greenville, Mo., and raises rodeo stock; Andrew, a computer expert in the state of Georgia; and Austin, who works with the horses with his parents.
After years of traveling and horse shows, Margaret and Wade knew they were ready to retire and do something else. They started a small trucking company, Upward Trucking, with each of them driving until they hired other drivers, but they were still ready for more.
“We prayed about this,” Margaret said.
“We’d done the training of other people’s horses and horse shows for years,” Wade added. “When the Lord gives you certain talents, they are also meant to be shared and benefit others.”
They were still looking when their son Austin, while working to break a colt for some friends, was introduced to the improvement a horse can make in the life of a veteran suffering from PTSD.
A high number of veterans returning from military deployments experience varying degrees of PTSD and many veterans do not seek the help they need. A new Veterans Administration study reveals that approximately 20 veterans commit suicide on a daily basis and that 70 percent were not regular users of VA services.
“Austin saw the difference right before his eyes. Learning about the healing process for this veteran who actually started him on the road to recovery suddenly let us know what we should be doing,” Margaret explained.
They began last fall to establish the proper foundation for their new organization, including completing their tax exempt 501(c)3 status, making them a full-fledged nonprofit organization.
In the meantime, they began working with a couple of veterans and the training of the 15 horses they have in the program. Their ultimate goal is to make the program self-sufficient through donations and sponsorships, relieving those in need of the burden of paying for the services involved.
“These veterans’ families have told us how the vets could speak of things, terrible things they never could before, after connecting with the horses,” Margaret said. “Even one who was suicidal saw significant improvement after spending time on a horse. These veterans could finally let the tears fall. We’ve also discovered a situation in which we hope to help young women who have been abused. In the future, we’d like to reach out to the disabled and also to autistic children.”
Heroes Rein Ranch also has three ponies, Princess, Bear Dancer and their colt, Twinkle. Margaret has taken Princess to nursing homes where former horse owners had expressed a last wish to “just pat a horse once more.”
“Princess is used to crowds,” Margaret continued. “She has done unicorn shots with kids, where she wears a horn and the kids get dressed up. They are all so cute together. Our granddaughter, Ellee Grace, who is just turning 6, loves the ponies and of course, she is the one who named the colt, Twinkle.”
Most recently, Margaret and Wade have been renovating the large barn on their property to accommodate the new program. Margaret’s father, Jerry Manes, originally built the barn in 1956 and her grandfather, Fred Manes, was the area blacksmith in Richland, Mo., for many years. Her great-uncles, and great-grandfather were also blacksmiths.
Horses, their care and training have been a tradition in her family for generations. Now, Ellee has also taken up the family’s tradition, a life of horses, cowboy boots and saddles which thrills her grandparents as well.
“We had an outdoor arena here but when we quit training horses, I tore it down,” Wade concluded. “Now, we need a new one so I’m building one specifically for the Heroes Rein program. We’ve been very fortunate in our lives. We’ve earned a lot of awards and even national championships over the years, but nothing is more rewarding than this work, seeing the changes these horses can bring to broken lives.”


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