Veterans Find Solace with Horses
With each brushstroke, sunbaked dust sifted off Cecilia into the air. Once Lois Fritz finished brushing, she started a sponge bath to give the animal a nice shine. She paused momentarily to kiss the horse on the head.
Fritz loves all horses, but she adores this one more than any other. The animal saved her life.
At the time she took Cecilia in, Fritz had been an alcoholic with no will to live. Forcing herself to go out every day and take care of the horse was the only way Fritz knew how to keep herself sober. The more time they spent together, the stronger Fritz's sobriety grew, and the more tame Cecilia became.
Fritz, a Navy veteran and the owner of New Freedom Farm, in Buchanan, Virginia, can usually be seen hustling around, keeping the farm running, ensuring everyone and everything, animals included, are taken care of. But, somehow, she always finds time between her chores for the horses.
Horses are her solace. Her way to find a break when she needs one, her way to relax when she's in distress, her calm during a storm.
She's always gravitated toward horses as a way to heal her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and has made it her mission to ensure other veterans find the same healing peace.
Fritz keeps the farm gate open all day each day for her fellow veterans. With her open invitation, vets have a safe place to spend time. They can visit the horses and other veterans to unwind, and can always go to Fritz without feeling uncomfortable. They can relate to each other.
She has faced many of the struggles other service members do: war, death and suicide. She went into a deep depression. The number of deaths piled up until they ultimately triggered her anxiety and PTSD.
Fritz didn't have it easy growing up. Her parents were illiterate, her family relied on welfare and many nights there wasn't any dinner. Joining the Navy was the easy way out. Fritz ran away from the only life she knew, a poor struggling family, an alcoholic father, and her mother's abusive friend.
Getting attached to an all-Marine security unit did not make life any easier. But it did toughen her up. She had to learn to stand on her own feet as life spiraled further out of control.
Her ex-boyfriend shot and killed himself, and sent a recording of it to her. Then her kid brother died. This one-two punch hit Fritz hard. She turned to alcohol to soothe herself and eventually became clinically depressed. Realizing she needed more than a little help to get her back on track, she began to take an interest in animals.
"I think I knew what PTSD felt like and I knew what that was so I just gravitated toward the horse," said Fritz.
She had seen how horses could do wonders for a broken heart, and heal you from inside. Realizing she needed more than a little help to get her back on track, she decided to look for her own horse.
But first she became sober, knowing she wasn't in any state fit to care for another living creature.
The next year, Fritz adopted Cecilia, a wild mustang, who'd never been touched by a human, and gave her a new home. That first adoption eventually turned into New Freedom Farm.