A real-life version of “if you build it, he will come” is unfolding just miles away from The Woodlands. Rather than baseball greats in an Iowa cornfield, this story is one of veterans, first responders, volunteers, and horses. It’s a story of heroes and heroines, rescuers and the rescued. It’s the story of Henry’s Home — a horse and human sanctuary.
Thirty years ago, Donna Stedman prayed about her purpose on earth. An answer came. She would build a retreat where people could heal their souls. The timeline, however, was vague: “Keep seeking Me, and when the time is right, I’ll provide the land, money, and people.”
As a mother of a West Point graduate and helicopter pilot serving in the Middle East, Donna wanted the retreat for veterans and first responders. She also knew horses made great therapists. In 2014, Donna founded Henry’s Home with Henry and Lexi, two horses rescued several years before. Donna chose Lexi. A very persistent Henry, who came to the SPCA so malnourished that he couldn’t stand, chose Donna.
After several temporary locations, the land fell into place. Board Member John Harrington and his wife Linda, a Henry’s Home volunteer, donated a wooded 21-acre property where nature’s music fills the silence.
Soon volunteers came bearing the gifts of time, talent, and treasure. “I believe that every person that comes here is a piece of the puzzle,” Donna says, “brought by God to grow this thing that He had planned.”
It grew to an all-volunteer staffed 31-horse sanctuary and innovative Horse and Heroes Learning Program. Rather than talk therapy, veterans wanted more hands-on horse time, both in the learning program and as sanctuary volunteers. As a result, the human therapist stepped aside, leaving the horses to be therapists.
Krista Carroll-Venezia, the Equine Director, supports this decision. Horses are well-equipped to help veterans and first responders with PTSD. “You have an unconditional relationship with a horse,” Krista says. “They give immediate feedback.”
For Tom Kimmons, an Army veteran and ER nurse, “PTSD is like a heavy cloak. It doesn’t allow sunshine or fresh air in. It surrounds you.” At Henry’s Home, he lets his guard down. “Being around horses is like being around a bunch of huge bodyguards,” he says. “They watch your back. It’s like a little guy with a big friend.” Diva, a horse once confined to a stall and used for hormone production, is his 2000-pound guardian.
Volunteering at Henry’s Home is therapy for Traci Stahl. She is a Navy veteran and caregiver for her son, Trent, who suffered from a catastrophic brain injury. "Being a caregiver is exhausting,” she says. “Some people get pedicures; some people get retail therapy. I get horse therapy.” Spending time with Fred, a former dressage horse, restores her.
Vietnam veteran Ricardo Ramos helps care for the horses. “You have a built-in community in the military,” Ricardo says, “it’s hard to readjust to civilian life.” Henry’s Home eases the transition and Ricardo and the Marine Corps League he belongs to lend support.
Community and corporate sponsors help with projects. But fundraising is an ongoing concern that Board Member Cindy Laufer tackles, including the November 12th Veterans Day Fundraiser. In 2021, 99.5 cents of every dollar raised directly supported the ranch, one of only about 200 facilities verified by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.
Each month, individual donors keep Henry’s Home running for those who desperately need it. Nationwide, 22 veterans commit suicide each day, often due to PTSD. “We see people that are struggling but want to stay in this life. Being here puts smiles on their faces,” Operations Director Vicki Huebler says. “It’s all about keeping the doors open and making sure we’re here for everybody who needs us,” Vicki says. Fortunately, “every time we turn around, somebody is stepping up.”
A menagerie of rescued animals steps up, too. Admiral and Avatar retired from the Houston Police Department, while Winston retired as a hunter/jumper who helped Special Olympians win gold medals. Some animals survived despite the odds. Mini Pearl, a mule, led constables on a 3-hour chase on 105, and Augustus McRae, a pig, somehow dodged traffic on Woodland Parkway.
No matter their past, their future is rosy — a forever home, meaningful “work,” and full benefits — plenty of food, pampering, and freedom to run. “Our horses are so special,” Vicki says. “They love us, and we love them right back. It’s a relationship that you can’t match anywhere else.”