While her 2,300-mile horseback ride is more than nine months away, Margaret "Peg" Steele is busy laying the groundwork for Trek 2020 — Searching for Our Heroes.Kicking off Feb. 15, 2020, the …
While her 2,300-mile horseback ride is more than nine months away, Margaret "Peg" Steele is busy laying the groundwork for Trek 2020 — Searching for Our Heroes.
Kicking off Feb. 15, 2020, the 59-year-old Taylorsville resident's journey will span four months across the Southeast. During the trip, she will extend thanks to veterans and first responders while raising awareness for equine-assisted therapy and psychotherapy.
“I suffered from PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] just by witnessing the [twin] towers fall when I knew my friend was at the scene as a firefighter with the NYFD,” Steele said, referring to the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City. “It took years and years before I realized that the changes in me were from that single event. I didn’t become incapacitated by it, but I changed completely and found myself ‘running.’
“I ran away from New Jersey because it was too close, and the news coverage contained nonstop replays of the 9/11 events. And after I settled in Georgia, I continued to run but in the form of nonstop provider, organizer, single mom, overanalyzing, list-making — [a] detail-oriented, obsessive person who couldn’t come off the hamster’s wheel.”
Noting her symptoms were “minor and yet suffocating,” Steele started researching PTSD’s impact on veterans and first responders.
“The numbers of affected [were] far higher than I imagined,” she said. “One in 5 veterans come home with active PTSD symptoms. Within a year, almost 30% showed signs. Our police, which total just over 1.1 million in the United States, currently cite 216,000 who suffer from PTSD. … The firefighters, which there is also about 1.1 million, cite a statistic of 7% to 37%. With a range like that my gut tells me to say that they have no real idea. In fact, all of the statistics come with the comment ‘If diagnosed’ or ‘If reported.’
“So after coming up empty on my search for a program for my friend and seeing the depressing statistics, I knew that we could do this better for our heroes and came up with the idea of doing a 2,300 [mile] ride throughout the Southeastern United States to educate the public and our heroes about the benefits of equine-assisted therapies/psychotherapy.”
In Trek 2020’s promotional materials, the benefits of equine-assisted therapy is underscored.
According to the document, “The No. 1 treatment for PTSD is medication management of the symptoms. But there are many other types of treatment. Equine-assisted psychotherapy (EAP) is one making huge strides in this area. People who have PTSD live in a state of hypervigilance, feeling threatened by everyday events. Horses are prey animals, so they also live in a state of hypervigilance, as do those who have been to war rely on their heightened senses for survival.
“By interacting with horses, people with PTSD often will see their own emotional state mirrored in the reactions of the horses with which they are working. They respond positively to positive emotions, and they have no ulterior motives. The horses are just there providing nonverbal feedback. Horses also force people to come out of their comfort zones by working with large, unfamiliar animals. The confidence that people can gain from interacting with horses can flow over into other aspects of their lives. Imagine what this can do for our heroes suffering from physical disabilities.”
Preparing for Trek 2020, Steele formed the nonprofit Trek for Hero Causes Inc. Along with raising awareness for her upcoming journey, she is recruiting volunteers to serve in various capacities, such as a logistics team member, and reaching out to various organizations and first-responder agencies.
“Over this past year, we have accomplished much,” she said. “We have communicated our goals and mission to other nonprofit organizations, Vetlanta, the equine-assisted therapy stables throughout the Southeast and of course our many heroes. The response has been very encouraging.
“The stables are excited for us to visit and have an opportunity to tell how equine-assisted therapies/psychotherapy helps with PTSD, TBI [traumatic brain injury] and the physical disabilities that our heroes often suffer after serving our country and communities. They see this as a great educational opportunity for the general public and those in need of their services.”
As of April 18, the Trek 2020 — Searching for Our Heroes project has honored 785 veterans, 1,131 active duty personnel, 257 firefighters and 315 police officers.
“We get a lot of positive feedback from the men and [women] who serve us,” she said. “I receive on average about 35 phone calls just between Sunday and Wednesday each week from heroes who are looking for more information about equine therapies and where the closest provider is to them.”
Along with serving as the weeknight planner for Lowe's Regional Distribution Center in Adairsville, Steele also owns Steele Away Acres with her husband, John. Situated on Taylorsville-Macedonia Road in Taylorsville, their farm contains a licensed stable and dog-boarding facility.
Since Trek for Hero Causes Inc. only recently became a 501(c)(3), the journey has been solely funded so far by the Steeles.
“Our fundraising focus will be starting within the next few weeks,” Steele said. “There is so much work to do and without supporters, it will be difficult to serve our heroes and make sure they don’t have to suffer the burden of PTSD without good quality treatments, including equine-assisted therapy.
“If we could get just $1 from every police officer, firefighter, military and veteran, we could help fund … 24 stables, provide drop stables into areas where the need is great and cover the cost of therapy when a hero has no other way of paying for it.”
For more information about Trek 2020 — Searching for Our Heroes, contact Steele at email@example.com or 470-289-9633 or visit the event’s Facebook page.