SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — "Saddles in Service" is an East County, non-profit ranch, offering an equine therapy program for anyone suffering from post-traumatic stress.
Located in Alpine, they have helped hundreds of veterans, first responders, and their families, and now frontline medical workers as well.
"Saddles in Service" is featured in a new award-winning documentary called "Wounded Heroes," produced and directed by native San Diegan Michael Gier.
For the film, Gier connected with Mike Oluvic and his wife Tammy, who run Saddles in Service.
Oluvic served 25 years active duty in the Navy, much of that time doing high-level intelligence work, spending several years in DEVGRU, more commonly known as SEAL Team 6.
As Oluvic's military career came to an end, his family confronted him about his post-traumatic stress symptoms. His struggle eventually led him to Alpine, where he and his wife bought land and rescued two horses, learning to be a cowboy, he says, as he went.
The connection to the horses, he says, is what healed him.
"There's no guilt. Something you did or did not do in your service or in your life, the horses don't know and honestly, they don't care," he says.
Now more than 300 heroes, on average 30 a week at the ranch, are finding their way through some very dark times.
The heart-wrenching stories of post-traumatic stress struggles led Michael Gier to feature Saddles in Service, and other PTS treatments, in "Wounded Heroes." He describes it as a three-year labor of love for the veterans, first responders, and their families who are suffering, but who are also finding hope in a variety of therapies.
"I produced this film to save lives," says Gier. "When I first started researching PTS, I was shocked to find out that there are 20 plus veterans a day taking their lives."
In the few weeks since its release, Wounded Heroes is getting nationwide attention and has won several awards including the New York Movie Awards international film festival, where it took second place for Best Documentary.
Gier says most rewarding is the response he's getting from people who are screening the film for groups of first responders and veterans, and from people who have found success with therapies featured in the film.
The film features several alternative therapies and does not tout anyone over another, such as Reconsolidation of Traumatic Memories (RTM), Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART), Stellate Ganglion Block (Stella), as well as therapies such as what Oluvic is doing in Alpine.
Gier hopes that they collectively paint a picture that looks a little less dark for so many who are battling their demons, and for their families as well.
Both men are pushing to challenge the stigma, and even the diagnosis, to remove the "D" of "disorder" from the name P-T-S.
"This isn't a disorder. This is a natural reaction to a stressful event," says Oluvic, adding that, as the horses at Saddles in Service are all rescued, "we're kind of healing each other."
Healing, and helping each hero, and each horse on a journey toward freedom and purpose.