Riding for veterans

By Karen Kissiah

May 15, 2014

You may have seen them riding through town, or along S.C. 9, this past week; two men on horseback, sporting cowboy hats, with a pack horse named Roy. If you wondered who they were, or what they were up to, you helped bring their mission one step closer to reality.

They’re mission is to heighten awareness of the struggles facing United States military veterans. “I have witnessed too many of my own brothers die, long after the shooting stopped, to remain idle,” said Matt Littrell.

“The need to help our veterans is great. Government-funded organizations, such as the Veterans Administration, are so backlogged and inadequately staffed that claims are taking too long to help our vets in time,” said Littrell.

Their ride began on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean last month at Camp Lejune, N.C. It will end, about 9 months from now, on the shore of the Pacific Ocean at Camp Pendleton in California. The purpose of the ride is to make a slow, personal trail through the country to show veterans who may be in danger of taking their lives that people really do care about them and the sacrifices they made.

His goal is to raise $7 million for the Semper Fi Fund by the time he reaches Camp Pendleton.

The Semper Fi fund is an organization that provides assistance to wounded veterans who suffer from visible and invisible wounds suffered in combat.

Littrell and his human companion, Raymond C. Avery, are both from Elbert, Colorado. Crow is a 5-year-old Mustang, born in the wild. He is Littrell’s horse, and a huge part of his heart.

“Death is the only thing that will ever separate us,” said Littrell. Tequila Sheila will carry Avery across the country. And Roy, the pack horse, will follow.

Their mission is also a leap of faith, as their success is dependent upon the individuals they meet along the way. The families they meet will them put them in touch with people they know in the next small town. For example, the folks they stayed with in Bennettsville introduced them to Jackie Clark, owner of Clark Stables on Midway Road in Cheraw. From there, they will travel to friends of hers who live about 20 miles west. And so they will ride from one short destination, and group of friends, to the next.

Littrell, who works as a farrier when he’s home in Colorado, has not always ridden horses.

“As a small child, I was allergic to them,” he said. “But most of my family, my brothers, were involved in the rodeo and such.”

Littrell said he outgrew his allergies, and later in life, his fear of horses.

“It’s all about body language with horses,” said Littrell. Once you learn to relax and communicate with them, “you’re hooked.”

He also described horses as behaving, in some ways, like a soldier on the battlefield. Horses are keenly alert at all times, Littrell said, “much like the all consuming alertness on the battlefield.”

One of the biggest factors in facing and overcoming fear, said Littrell, is knowing you’re not alone.

“On the battlefield, you know you have one another’s back,” he said. And knowing someone else is there with you, or for you, is also a huge part of the healing process.

“We’ve already been successful if we don’t take another step,” said Littrell. Four days into their trip, Littrell got a message that a veteran, “sitting with the gun on the table,” had heard about their mission and found encouragement to live.

You can keep up with the success of their mission through their website, The Long Trail, or on Facebook, and contribute to the cause. If you know someone, between here and California, who can put them and their horses up for the evening, you can reach them through information on the website.

Reach staff writer Karen Kissiah at 843-537-5261.