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The War Horse Project

Exploring How to Give Back to the Community

With a series of soft whistles and clicks, Dr. Sean Hollonbeck coaxes Romeo, a gentle brown painted horse, to come to his call. Romeo is vulnerable like the veterans who come to The War Horse Project farm for healing. Romeo is a rescue horse once abused and injured. Hollenbeck’s clients are veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, or people with other physical or emotional challenges. 

“I made a promise because a lot of people didn’t come home to commit funds and knowledge to truly make a difference in a place where there is a lot of need.” Hollonbeck MD, MPH, is the 30-acre farm’s owner. The farm is in the Garcon Point Community, directly across Escambia Bay from Pensacola. 

Dr. Sean, as he is known, is a retired Army colonel and military physician, but he is also an equine therapy expert. He spent his life in the military doing six tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He agrees it is a fair assessment that he suffers from PTSD due to witnessing countless injuries and casualties.

He prefers to take the “D” off the acronym 'PTSD' because he sees it as more of a stress-related condition rather than a disorder. While serving as a chief medical officer at over twenty-two hospitals and medical facilities around the world, he has seen a rise in “behavioral issues, PTSD and suicide." He believes, “There is a serious gap in fixing the problems.” His farm offers a unique refuge to educate, empower and engage injured souls. “When we welcome guests in, we tell them to leave all things in your life at the gate. You’re here to learn a new way of seeing things.”

Dr. Sean studied natural horsemanship, which in some circles is known as being a horse whisperer. He explained, “Horses can calm down and come to a space of peace when humans often cannot.” He added, “They [clients] come here and learn to be a horse. We educate them and give them the tools.” 

Since he started equine therapy in 2013, Dr. Sean has treated hundreds of veterans, but the practice of helping men and women with Post Traumatic Stress has evolved into helping veterans who are amputees, paraplegics, children, elders and those in hospice. His clients mostly come by word of mouth. There is no staff. It is a project run by volunteers, donors and clients who often return to give back. “How do we measure success?” He answers, “We measure the success in smiles and people reaching back to us!”

Dr. Sean, who served all over the world, chose the Pensacola area for his War Horse Project because it “has the largest density of veterans in need in the country. It is ground zero.”

His project is at a crossroads because he knows he needs more funds to realize the growth he would like to see. Up until now, he has funded most of the project from his own pocket. He envisions improvements to the land, more health, wellness and survival programs for clients as well as satellite stations modeled after the current farm. He has hosted Boy Scout troops, children with autism, vision problems and more. 

He is working on fundraising and writing grants. He welcomes groups with creative ideas like donating supplies or building a barn or shelter for the animals. He likes the idea of naming a bench or trail for an organization. In the meantime, he never charges a person in need for service on the War Horse farm.

It is a project from the heart: “There is a power in horses and nature. It is a gift to the community.”