Financial fallout of COVID-19 hits Montana ranch that helps female veterans fight PTSD

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Lisa Ledoux and her mother have been operating Serenity Ranch in Montana since May 2016, providing free equine therapy to female veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other traumas.

The economic fallout of COVID-19, however, has taken a toll on Serenity Ranch and is forcing the horse rescue facility to roll back its critical equine therapy programs and sell nearly 40 acres of land.

“This year, unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will be unable to do a female veteran program,” said Ledoux. “We’ll be taking care of the horses, and that’s kind of what we’ve been focusing on more lately since the pandemic started, just because the donations that we were receiving have gone down significantly.”

Ledoux explained to Fox News that it’s just her and her mom taking care of the ranch and the horses. She broke down the high operating costs and noted that a bale of hay, for example, is $120, and the horses go through one bale in about a day-and-a-half.

“The hay cost alone is very pricey, not to mention maintenance of our land, making sure fencing is up to par so horses don’t get out,” said Ledoux. “We have to trim our horses’ feet, which is not an easy task either … and just to do that is about $2,000 to $3,000, so the cost of running the place adds up.”

Ledoux and her mother depend on donations to run Serenity Ranch and offer free-of-charge equine therapy to at-risk women. Their dedication comes from their firsthand account of equine therapy when they both experienced loss. When Ledoux’s stepfather died suddenly of a heart attack, they learned how effective working with horses could be when coping with trauma.

“The horses are truly healing and they helped us through some really rough times,” said Ledoux. “We wanted to share that, so we established the Serenity Ranch.”

A six- to seven-day stay at the ranch includes resilience training with a licensed coach, lessons from a local veterinarian so the women can learn how to tackle first aid issues with the horses, and writing sessions. The women get paired with a horse and they ride that particular horse for the duration of the week.

Air Force veteran Cari Simmons explained to Fox News how Serenity Ranch’s program impacted her.

“Not only was I able to bond with other veterans in magical place of true serenity, the owners and staff at the ranch offered me unconditional acceptance so I could find my voice and confidence again,” said Simmons. “On top of that, the herd of magical horses who live on the ranch touched my heart in ways that allowed me to love again — not only them but myself as well. I am so very grateful.”

Leroux and her mother have been rescuing diverse breeds of horses for about 15 years and currently have 41 horses at Serenity Ranch. The mother-daughter duo takes on horses that people may no longer want and also facilitate rescue operations. For example, two years ago, Leroux and her mother assisted a rescue from a hoarding situation of 40 horses.

“That situation was awful, the horses hadn’t been cared for or they hadn’t been fed, and they hadn’t been watered,” said Ledoux. “So we took the 40 horses onto our property, and I am happy to say that most of them have either been homed or adopted.”

Ledoux noted that the horses with traumatic pasts truly connect with the women who have suffered trauma themselves, and noted the healing properties of the human-horse connection.

“When you’re leading a horse, you have to be in the present, and if you’re thinking about what you ate for breakfast or thinking about what you were gonna have for lunch or anything, the horses know and will act out,” explained Ledoux. “They might rear up, they might kick, so in order to handle a horse, your brain has to be in a state of complete presence, and you have to be in the moment.”

For more on how Serenity Ranch is helping veterans watch the full interview with Serenity Ranch founder Lisa Ledoux above.

Emily DeCiccio is a reporter and video producer for Fox News Digital Originals. Tweet her @EmilyDeCiccio.

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