By Mark Conrad

Don’t be surprised if, from time to time, you hear the whinnying of horses and the clip-clop of their hooves on the grounds of the Dayton VA Medical Center – it means you’re in for a treat – a visit from the 4 Freedom Equestrian Team! Their support for veterans at the VA Medical Center is “Above and Beyond” – not only do they have an annual drive to collect lap blankets for the patients at the VA Medical Center, but they have also recently introduced the Share and Care Program. This new program functions as a type of animal therapy. Each month, (weather permitting), team members bring their horses to the VA so that veterans have the opportunity to learn how to care for the animals, or just to pet them. Another part of the program consists of telling the history of war horses using literature and authentic Cavalry artifacts.

HISTORY

Founded as a 501c3 Not-For-Profit by Team Captain Leah Edwards in 2006, the team is dedicated to supporting veterans, veteran related functions, charitable organizations and to keeping POW/MIA awareness alive. Their first performances consisted of synchronized riding to patriotic music, and since then, have expanded to include a wide variety of activities. They now serve as a mounted Honor Guard at services and ceremonies throughout southwestern Ohio and have presented the colors or stood as Honor Guards for the Blue Star Mothers of America, the Freedom Alliance and numerous services in the Dayton National Cemetery and at the Patriot Freedom Festival.

AWARD WINNING TEAM

Included among their community performances are the Matt Maupin Scholarship Ride and the opening ceremony of the 2009 Pfizer Fantasia at the Columbus, Ohio Equine Affaire. In the last five years, they’ve twice won the Committee’s Choice Award at the Englewood Festival Parade, as well as the Mayor’s Choice Award at the Arcanum Old Fashioned Days, the Equestrian Dream Award at the Fairborn 4th of July Parade, and the 1st Place Mounted Equestrian in the Minster Oktoberfest Parade. The highlight of their parade performances was being selected to travel to Washington DC to take part in the National Independence Day Parade in 2010 before a street audience of hundreds of thousands of spectators.

Team Captain Leah Edwards, and her co-Captains are also recipients of the Sons of the American Revolution Bronze Good Citizenship Medal, which recognizes persons whose achievements are noteworthy in their school, community or state – other team members were awarded Outstanding Citizenship awards.

Dressed in authentic military uniforms, the 4 Freedom Equestrian Team performances honor our nation’s veterans and those who continue to serve our great nation, in a unique way; there is no other equestrian team comparable in Ohio. Their current performance is called The Fight for Freedom: Salute to the Armed Forces, which not only honors the men and women in the Armed Forces past and present, but also pays homage to the suffering and sacrifice of our Prisoners of War. The performance begins with the capture of an American service member, followed by a choreographed routine by other riders to the Armed Forces medley. The drama ends with a rider carrying the American flag charging in to chase away the enemy as the Prisoner breaks her bonds; both then gallop to freedom. Without exception, The Fight for Freedom never fails to move the audience to tears.

The team consists of riders from the Darke, Miami, Preble, Clinton and Montgomery County areas, and while they do receive some donations, the majority of their costs are borne by the team members themselves. What can be donated? Of course, cash donations are always gratefully accepted! However, the team can also use:

  • Care package items: they are active in sending care packages overseas to soldiers in every branch of service.
  • Uniforms and headgear: they can use all sizes of dress and camouflage uniforms from all branches and eras of the Armed Forces.
  • Items for the care of their horses (they work just as hard!): Hay, straw, sawdust, fly spray, feed, tack, etc.
  • And finally, a carriage – At each Share and Care Program, there is always requests to ride the horses, which unfortunately cannot be allowed. However, if the team can acquire a carriage, they will be able to give veterans rides around the VA grounds.

The next time you get a chance, stop by and visit with the 4 Freedom Equestrian Team – help them support and honor our veterans, remember those who are away from home fighting for our freedom, and say “Thank You!” to those who served in the past. Be sure to visit the Dayton VA during the Patriot Freedom Festival, May 25-26, 2013 to see the 4 Freedom Equestrian Team!

Website: www.4freedomteam.com/ Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/4-Freedom-Equestrian-Team/96593689355