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Healing for Veterans, a Refuge for Racehorses

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The following is an article from BloodHorse

Photo: Courtesy Down the Stretch Ranch Richard Monaco, a Vietnam War veteran, rides retired Thoroughbred Gal Has to Like it just outside Down the Stretch Ranch in Creston, Wash.

Photo: Courtesy Down the Stretch Ranch
Richard Monaco, a Vietnam War veteran, rides retired Thoroughbred Gal Has to Like it just outside Down the Stretch Ranch in Creston, Wash.

Mark Moran found himself in the Del Mar paddock for the first time on the second weekend of November—cane, wooden leg, eye patch, and all. It was on his bucket list.

The trip south from his home in Washington state was a gift of sorts from his cousin, Boone McCanna.

Moran, 66, is riddled with cancer—untreatable adenoid cystic carcinoma—but he’s not overly concerned.

“I’m going to live until I die,” Moran says. “I should have died in Vietnam, and I’ve had 47 years since then, had a family—six grandkids—and I’m grateful every day.”

Those 47 years have been bearable, at least in part, because of horses. After an explosion took his leg in Vietnam in 1969, nothing helped quite like grooming and hotwalking Thoroughbreds for his uncle and Boone’s father, trainer Dan McCanna, at Playfair Race Course in Spokane, Wash. There were no more thoughts of the horrors of war, just the horses.

“You build trust with those horses,” Moran says. “They all have their personalities and if you treat them good, they treat you good. It takes a lot of worry out of your mind. It’s hard to put into words. It helped me calm my brain, to just feel like I was connected to something.

“If you’re working, you have dignity in this life. Grooming and mucking stalls—some people might look down on that, but it gave me dignity.”

Moran isn’t just Boone’s cousin.

“He’s always been my inspiration,” Boone says. “He was (6-foot-3)—just a stud—and he gets blown up over there. His whole body is a scar. I got to play college football and he never did, but he never complained about anything. Not one complaint.”

No complaints, but there was pain. Still Boone, now 52, saw it first-hand decades ago—the impact horses had on his cousin.

“The horses were magic to him,” Boone says of Moran’s struggles with post traumatic stress disorder, a plague upon veterans old and young to this day.

That experience, watching his cousin change with equine aura, provided the spark. If it worked for Moran, it could work for others. Years later, that spark has blossomed into a reality—Down the Stretch Ranch.

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