Mike Reilly is the Veterans Program Coordinator at Heroes and Horses, a Montana-based nonprofit that uses expedition-style horse pack trips through wild landscapes to help veterans overcome the challenges of life after the military. Prior to his work with Heroes and Horses, Mike was a Navy SEAL and served as a member of SEAL Team 1 in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn. As he was transitioning out of the military, he heard about Heroes and Horses and signed on as a student. The program offered a perfect blend of service, teaching, helping others, and adventure that spoke to Mike’s strengths and interests; after completing the program, he was hired to stay on a full-time member of the team.
Heroes and Horses is not a vacation. It’s a rigorous and hardcore three-phase process that takes veterans with no prior horseback experience and, in the course of a summer, turns them into expert horsemen and wilderness travelers. Through the hard work and focus required to make it through the program, veterans are able to forge lasting bonds and discover a renewed sense of purpose—which gives them the skills and confidence to thrive in the civilian life as they begin their post-military lives. Amazingly, this program is offered at no cost to veterans.
Mike was nice enough to take a break from a morning of training wild mustangs to chat with me about the program and his personal story. We discussed how he initially connected with Heroes and Horses and how it helped him through some of the challenges of post-deployment life. Mike explained the organization's upcoming 500 Miles Project, in which they are training horses from the BLM’s Wild Mustang Program and planning to take them on a 500-mile ride later this summer. He also talks about his military career, and how a collegiate baseball injury was the catalyst that led him to pursue his dream of becoming a SEAL.
Mike is a humble guy with a deeply ingrained passion for serving and helping others, so I know you’ll enjoy this episode. I encourage you to check out the Heroes and Horses website, visit their GoFundMe page, and consider supporting their important work.
3:20 - How Mike describes his work
4:00- Heroes and Horses explained
7:45 - Importance of the bond between the veterans and horses
9:10 - Why H&H so effective compared to “traditional” PTSD therapy
11:15 - The circumstances that led Mike to H&H
13:30 - Why Mike chose H&H over traditional channels of help
15:25 - Mike reaches out to H&H founder and E.D. Micah Fink
16:00 - Personal powerful moment during Mike’s student stint at H&H
18:30 - Mike’s attraction to the military
20:00 - From enlisting to trying out for the SEAL teams
22:40 - Why teaching suits Mike’s personality
24:00 - Personal mentors and heroes
25:00 - Importance of purpose and community
27:55 - Ensuring that H&H lessons stick when the students return to civilian life
31:00 - Success stories from H&H
32:35 - Val from Unbranded
33:55 - The 500 Miles Project
36:30 - The BLM’s Wild Mustang Program
39:35 - Training wild horses
42:25 - How Mike defines the word “conservation”
45:40 - Favorite books
46:55 - Favorite movies
49:10 - Favorite place in the West
50:50 - Mike’s request of the listeners