November 15, 2010
By Julie PrebleThe American Quarter Horse Journal
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Grayling Swan on Veterans Day at the 2010 World Show
Army veteran Grayling Swan has found a new life through the healing power of American Quarter Horses and therapeutic riding.
After serving for a year in the U.S. Army, Grayling Swan found himself a changed man. He did not serve during a war and he was not physically injured, but his time in the military left a mark.
“I’m one of the fortunate ones; I didn’t receive any physical damage,” Grayling says. “I’m not missing any limbs, my body hasn’t been chewed up like some guys, but I was subjected to a lot of military trauma that left me mentally distorted.”
Since the time of his discharge in 1978 up until about three or four years ago, Grayling said his life had been on a progressive downward spiral. He was moving from job to job, and he had no social life to speak of.
“You live with these mental issues that you don’t quite know what to do with or how to deal with them,” he said. “The end result is you’re looking for a way to replace them or not deal with them – just get them out of the way, but you can’t do that.”
The issues he was dealing with had him completely alienated from the outside world. Grayling admitted that there was even a time when he contemplated suicide as a way out. It was Grayling’s love of horses that helped him and is continuing to help him recover, he said during the November 11 evening finals at the 2010 AQHA World Championship Show. The finals that night honored military veterans, including Grayling, who spoke before the amateur cutting began.
“I’ve been goofing around and playing with horses and riding since about 7 years old. When I got into the military is when my life with horses stopped,” he says.
Recently, Grayling has gotten more involved with horses through therapeutic riding at Bravehearts Therapeutic Horseback Riding Center in Illinois. It is the horses that have helped him get to where he is today, he told the Journal in an exclusive interview.
“My social life is about a million times better,” Grayling says.
One Quarter Horse in particular, “Shiloh,” helped Grayling work through another issue he was having – how to deal with his problems.
According to Grayling, Shiloh is an extremely intelligent horse, and he requires an experienced rider – not to say that Shiloh is green. The gelding simply needs a rider who knows what he or she is doing.
Grayling says his first few rides with Shiloh were frustrating: He considers himself a good rider, but he could not get Shiloh to do what he was supposed to do. He even went so far as to tell his instructor, Sarah, he didn’t like the horse and wanted to ride one of the others. From then on, Sarah would only allow Grayling to ride Shiloh.
Working with Shiloh made Grayling realize that the best way to fix his problems is not to go around them but to instead work through them. Now, Shiloh is Grayling’s favorite horse to ride, and he is hoping to one day be a competitor in an AQHA World Championship Show.
“(Horses are) my greatest love,” Grayling says. “I got away from it once, and I refuse to get away from it again. So I’m hoping the connection will be enough to keep me where I’m at, and I will be able to live out what’s left of my life in the peace that I’m enjoying right now.”