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Ranch to hold second annual barbecue

Event will allow hurt servicemen to ride horseback

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

FORT VALLEY -- Secret Passage Ranch is hosting its second annual Fall BBQ Bash this Saturday.

The event, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., benefits the ranch's Victory for Veterans therapeutic riding program for wounded soldiers.

"We've got some barbecue, we've got horseback riding, we've got carriage rides, face painting, fishing," ranch owner Don Warlick said. "We have some of the soldiers from Bethesda [Naval Medical Center] and Walter Reed [who] will be here. That's what it's for."

Besides the activities, there will be door prizes and a silent auction.

"A lot of folks have been real nice to support it with donations and gifts that we can use," Warlick said.

He expects about 18 soldiers to be at the ranch on Saturday.

"We take whatever injuries they have," Warlick said. "Our goal is to use the horses to put them back together, make them enjoy life again, make them feel normal.

"We've practically quit using the term 'therapeutic,' and we're using the word 'R and R' -- rest and relaxation -- because they think they're going to another shrink, and it kind of hurts their attitude a little bit. But, for the public to understand what we're doing, we use the other word."

His wife, Cindy, said the Secret Passage Therapeutic Riding Center is a chance for soldiers suffering from physical or psychological wounds to get away and be surrounded by nature.

"I think a lot of the soldiers just like to have someone to talk to," she said.

For physically injured soldiers, the center is a break from therapy that can be painful, Mrs. Warlick said, and for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, "just getting away from everything and being able to see nature and kind of become one with [it] ... going out riding a horse and having nothing else to think about and clearing your mind or just talking."

Warlick became involved in equine therapy after years of coaching high school football and basketball in Georgia and North Carolina.

"Where I was coaching, if you didn't win, you didn't stay there long," he said. "I got where I couldn't sleep, irritable, not nice to be around sometimes. I realized that every time I rode my horses ... I felt better and I could sleep."

Warlick saw similar effects with some of his players.

Admission to the barbecue is $10, Warlick said, plus payment for some other activities.
"It's all to raise money," he said. "We don't charge the soldiers or the government. It's just something we want to give back to these boys and ladies that are serving our country."

Besides wounded soldiers, the riding center works with special-needs children, Warlick said.

For more information, call 933-6564 or visit www.secretpassageranch.com.

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