Mustangs for veterans and first responders

Cynthia Sheeley/Torrington Telegram A mustang named Sailor who helps out at Operation Remount.

JAY EM – Operation Remount Corporation is a 501c3 nonprofit program based outside of Jay Em where veterans and first responders can bond and build trust with wild mustangs in an effort to work through their traumatic experiences.

When a person experiences a traumatic event, it stays with them. It becomes a part of them. It affects how they think, how they act and even how they live on a day-to-day basis. Whether the person notices it or not, these experiences can manifest into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression, among many other issues. 

This is especially true for veterans and first responders. Veterans and first responders live through nightmarish situations on a regular basis. These situations not only put stress on their bodies but also on their minds. While our brains are amazing things, they can also be their own worse enemies. 

Kelly Alexander and his wife, Karen, opened Operation Remount in May 2021 to help make a difference in veterans’ and first responders’ lives. 

According to their website,, “As of the 2020 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, the suicide rate among the OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) veterans is 17.6 per day and remains significantly higher than the general population.”

The goal of Operation Remount is to provide veterans and first responders with a way to work through their trauma so they can heal. As a result of their own experiences, wild mustangs develop their own trauma. When a traumatized individual and a traumatized horse are paired together, they can help each other heal. 

Both Kelly and Karen are familiar with mental conditions. Kelly is a retired veteran who fought in the Afghanistan War and Karen is a nurse practitioner in Lusk. 

In 2014, Kelly said he was diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety, hypervigilance, isolation and depression. After 18 years of active duty and 22 years total, Kelly went through a medical evaluation and was medically retired from the military. 

“I was getting ready to leave the army when I came across this website that does a veteran mustang program,” Kelly told the Telegram. “It was their way of giving back to the military and showing their support. I thought that it’d be cool, so I filled out the application.”

Kelly explained that the program was the Mustang Heritage Program in Texas. It was an eight-week program where veterans got the opportunity to work with mustangs. 

“I have to admit, I was a bit intimidated,” Kelly reflected. “I had never been a horse person. They put me in this 25-by-25-foot pen with this large animal with a nasty gash right above his eye.”

Kelly said he learned many valuable lessons, like, staying in the moment, what escalates his symptoms, it’s okay to step away from things and mindfulness.

After his experience with the Mustang Heritage Program, both Kelly and Karen were inspired to learn more about these types of programs. It wasn’t long before they found out there were only a small number of equine-centered programs for veterans. The majority of these programs out there were short retreats with domesticated or desensitized horses.

When they decided to start their own program, they decided they wanted to use wild mustangs, provide education on mental health, and provide room and board for their applicants. 

“When I started conversations with Karen and the kids about doing this, they all encouraged me to do it,” Kelly said. “It was my own personal journey, where I had to find out whom I was going to be now. I was reinventing myself.”

Karen said that she grew up in Oklahoma while Kelly was raised in Florida. They moved to Cheyenne when she was working on her doctorate. A few years later, she was offered a nurse practitioner position in Lusk. Shortly after their move, they found the perfect place to open up Operation Remount outside of Jay Em. 

Their first program was in May 2021 with two veterans, one from Casper and the other from Arkansas. There are two six-week programs each year, one in the spring and one in the fall. This year there will be four applicants accepted for each program. 

The program is an all-inclusive experience completely free of charge. Operation Remount provides lodging for all applicants and meals during the four days of classes. 

They have an RV that people can stay in and two RV pads if someone would like to bring their own RV. Thanks to a generous donation, they will also be adding two tiny cabins to the property. 

The mustangs used for the programs come straight from the BLM Wheatland facility. 

During the program, the attendees take classes and get to work with their own horses. The classes cover mental health, coping skills and common horse knowledge. By the end of the program, the goal is for each attendee to at least be able to pet the horse’s nose, halter them, pick up their feet and trailer them. After graduation, the attendees may take their horses home free of charge, as long as they have somewhere to accommodate them.

“I encourage everyone to get into anything equine (after they finish the program),” Kelly said. “There are many different organizations that mustangs are involved in and I think if they can do that, then they can get the full benefit of that bond. Somebody once told me that a horse and a dog are the only two mammals that can bond with a human to a great depth. I’d like to think that that’s true.”

Karen said while it didn’t happen this year, they are hoping to get approved for a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grant to get build an indoor arena. This would allow them to run programs year-round and accept more applicants. 

Operation Remount Corporation is located at 12080 US Highway 85 outside of Jay Em on the Mirrored K Legacy Ranch.

To learn more head to their website, call 308-224-4694 or follow operation remount on Facebook. To go through the application process you can go online, call or message them on Facebook. Proof of service is required.

Operation Remount has several events coming up. They will hold a Charity Auction on Apr. 22 at 10 a.m. at the Niobrara County Fairgrounds. The second annual Spring Mustang Rendezvous will be held on June 10 at 9 a.m. at the Niobrara County Fairgrounds. The Open House and Graduation will be on Sept. 16 at 11 a.m. at Mirrored K Legacy Ranch. Any proceeds raised at these events go back into the program.

Donations to Operation Remount can be done online at their website, on Amazon, or in person. On Amazon, you can find Operation Remount under the nonprofits and purchase items for the facility. One special fundraiser they do is the brick fundraiser. For $100, you can order a brick honoring a veteran or first responder that will be placed on the property on their future walk path.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of the support and some good exposure media-wise,” Kelly said. 

Comments from Graduates

“I am thankful for Kelly Alexander and Operation Remount Corporation volunteers for what they have given me with my experience training my mustang Pardner,” Retired Police Officer Chris Trudeau said. “I am grateful for the opportunity and experience at Operation Remount.”

“Operation Remount Corporation found me when I needed it the most,” US Navy Veteran Kori Wilson said. “Working with my own mustang has allowed me the peace of mind to move forward in life and accept the challenges that life throws. Furthermore, Kelly and Karen go above and beyond every day for those that come in.”

“The biggest thing I learned was to let go of things that I didn’t even know I was holding on to,” Navy Veteran Lewis Matteson said. “If you’re willing to put the time in and dedicate yourself to the program you can’t go wrong. If somebody’s thinking about applying, do it, because it’ll change your life.”

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