SALINEVILLE, Ohio (WTRF) – Normally Veterans Voices is just about military service; the years of a person’s life spent in sacrifice, and sometimes struggle. 

For many veterans, the things they saw in combat don’t leave them. Instead, they come home with them.

For a few, those struggles with PTSD followed them to a ranch in Salineville, Ohio. 

7News first introduced you to DLR Mustang ranch and their healing mission three years ago. With the help of some special animals, veterans have come and gone, but now they leave without their troubles. 

Veterans Voices: Wild mustangs tame veterans

The horses, there’s something about them. It’s helping me find myself again.

Randy Haynes, Veteran

They come to DLR Mustang ranch a little lost; both the veterans and wild mustangs, but they leave with a new life. In the mustang’s case, the animals sometimes leave with a new home.

It was hard to get me to talk much. I stayed at home, didn’t really want anybody around. I came here and they put me with Miss Ellie and something clicked.

Randy Haynes, Veteran

Haynes is from Alabama and served in the Army National Guard. At first, he didn’t want to come to Ohio or to DLR Mustang Ranch. It took some persuading from his friend Dave Flounders, who also went through the program. They trusted one another and make the trip, and that’s a trust that’s key to the ranch’s mission.

It’s like the guys in the military, guys and the girls, you become a family. We have friends and family on the outside of the military; nothing can compare to the bond that two soldiers who have been through combat share.

Dale Lackey, Owner, DLR Mustang Ranch

For three years now Dale and Renee Lackey have built DLR Mustang Ranch on the foundation of unbreakable bonds; the shared experience of military service and the connection between man and mustang.

Veterans Voices: DLR Mustang Ranch becomes a calm oasis during tough times

Sometimes the bond with your horse is stronger than the bond between husband and wife. The only thing stronger is the bond between man and God and that’s what we strive to keep here. He is everything here, I mean, he has made this place possible.

Dale Lackey, Owner, DLR Mustang Ranch

Lackey said God is the only reason DLR Mustang Ranch is here.

It’s been a tough few years for the ranch; they’ve had to build up the facilities, fundraise, go through the loss of loved ones and quite literally survive COVID. Both Dale and his wife Renee were sick with the virus last year, and it almost took Dale’s life. He said it’s by the grace of God he’s here, and able to continue to help veterans.

Through all that, they’ve created a place where veterans and first responders with PTSD, or anyone struggling mentally, can heal.

We’ve struggled to get to this point. It’s been a hard, uphill climb and I’m just so proud of the veterans and the work they’ve done. I know it’s not easy to give up six-weeks of their lives and come here, but it’s just been amazing to watch.

Renee Lackey, Owner, DLR Mustang Ranch

Finally, the first two veterans graduated from DLR Mustang Ranch’s six-week program.

They’ve seen the change happen before their eyes. For the veterans, it’s most notable in the mustangs. What they don’t realize is each moment of training is also helping them too. 

To me the change was, you could pet him while he eats. You could pet his nose. You can scratch his ears a little bit, but the change was able to touch his whole body. From one minute where you couldn’t touch him to the same afternoon, I took off his tag. I put a halter on him, ran him through some paces. That was the same day.

Dave Flounders, Veteran

Flounders is also from Alabama and spent 32-years in the military. He’s struggled with depression, and it was his wife who found the program for him.

While he will happily brag about his mustang “Super Moose” and how far he’s come, there’s been a major change in Flounders too.

He runs a non-profit called Samson’s Strength Sustainable Veterans Project, which provides housing to veterans. Now, he’s also built stables on his property for Super Moose and other mustangs, but that development wasn’t one he would have though of before coming to DLR Mustang Ranch.

I wouldn’t walk anywhere near a horse’s back end. Sorry. Not happening. You can ask these guys, I’d walk 10-feet out of my way walk around them. Now I’ll walk right around them.

Dave Flounders, Veteran

These mustangs are trained from first-touch, meaning ideally someone from DLR Mustang Ranch is the first type of human-contact they’ve had. The process of taking them from wild to trusting is a long one, with many therapeutic benefits. While some may see these mustangs as dangerous, others at the ranch see potential.

They’re not dangerous unless you put them in a position where you make them dangerous. The same with a veteran. A veteran’s not dangerous unless you put them in a position where you have to be.

Dale Lackey, Owner, DLR Mustang Ranch

You think that they’re these super wild, untrainable, scary animals. Everyone that I talk to that I’m here doing this says ‘oh my gosh how can you get in a pen with them?’ and it’s completely different.

Maci Razete, Trains Horses at DLR Mustang Ranch

Which is why the training process takes time and trust. The humans move at the horses pace to develop a bond.

You won’t only find veterans in the stalls with the mustangs.

First responders are welcome as well as anyone who struggles with anxiety or other mental health issues. DLR Mustang Ranch said if you need help, they’re here.

These animals, it doesn’t matter how it is that your heart got damaged, in whatever way that it was, they’re going to do everything that they can to help bring you back and he’s (Cricket) definitely helped me with that.

Maci Razete, Trains Horses at DLR Mustang Ranch

Dale and Renee say it’s been a community help to get this far and they’ve relied on the generosity of others to achieve the goal of bringing veterans to the ranch.

Now that the first group has gone, they’re ready to welcome more.

Veterans are welcome at DLR Mustang Ranch, even if they don’t want to go through the six-week program. The Lackeys say even a few hours among the mustangs can do a world of good.

They will continue to offer the programs free of charge to veterans and first responders, all you have to do is call.

It’s the never ending story we hope.

Dale Lackey, Owner, DLR Mustang Ranch

To learn more, visit their Facebook Page at DLR Mustang Ranch.