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Heroes on Horses honored at APHA World Show

As Brooke King smoothed her hand over the tobiano filly’s ebony-and-cream coat, a sense of calm washed over the combat veteran.

Brooke King & MWO Bonnie Lass

“I joke that she is my service horse,” Brooke said about MWO Bonnie Lass, her 2021 black tobiano mare. “She walked straight up to me as a foal, turned and laid on me—she picked me. She’s only 3 years old, but she has an old soul. We are like two peas in a pod.”

A private first class for the U.S. Army, Brooke served as a wheel vehicle mechanic in the Iraq war. Her primary role was as a recovery specialist, and she retrieved the remains of service vehicles and their servicemen after bombings and other attacks. She later served in active combat as a machine gunner and was honorably discharged when she was five months pregnant with twins in 2007.

“Seeing people on their worst day every day for eight months takes a toll on your soul. When I got back from Iraq, I was really lost. I had severe PTSD,” Brooke said; that was in addition to the physical ailments she suffered, too. “Having an animal you connect with and a purpose that’s bigger than yourself is a way to deal with the pain.”

Part of her recovery, Brooke says, has been rediscovering her sense of self. Reconnecting to her love of horses and working with “Bon Bon” has proven invaluable.

“That’s been the most challenging part—trying to figure out who I am without the military side. And I think a lot of veterans struggle with that,” Brooke said. “I finally realized that, for me, it’s not really a physical destination. It’s the people I’m around. Having a space to do something is just as important as having the thing to do it with. When it all comes together, it’s kind of magical.”


Jacqueline Egan

Heroes on Horses

That’s part of the reason Brooke decided to make the trek from Dade City, Florida, to Fort Worth, Texas, for the 2024 APHA World Championship Show. She brought Bon Bon and 16-year-old son Zachary, too. Brooke was excited to learn about the Heroes on Horses parade and veterans class hosted at the World Show . She was planning to compete in the Heroes competition, but her horse developed soreness that kept them out of the event this year. Nonetheless, Brooke expressed genuine excitement about the opportunity to honor veterans at the APHA World Show.

“I’ve never been recognized as a veteran in the horse world. I was floored and very excited,” she said. “To have a platform on the world stage is amazing. It is a worthy and wonderful way to show appreciation not only for this country but those who fought, sacrificed and gave their lives for it.”

The inaugural Heroes on Horses Parade & Western Pleasure competition took place in the John Justin Arena on July 4. Veterans rode into the pen, greeted by a sea of American flags and followed by a Color Guard and Riderless Horse presentation. The event, co-produced by APHA and the National Snaffle Bit Association, honored active duty and retired veterans, as well as those who gave their lives in defense of our freedom. Seventeen veterans participated in the Heroes on Horses Western Pleasure class; Jacqueline Egan of Pilot Point, Texas, won the championship honors.

Retired Sergeant Major John Halpin agrees with Brooke about the sense of purpose offered to veterans through horses. The Marine veteran has participated in the NSBA Heroes on Horses program for about four years and won reserve champion honors at the Fort Worth competition.

“Horses mean everything to me. My horse literally saved my life,” John said. “They can read you like a book. It’s amazing. When you get out of the military, you have to find purpose—whatever that purpose is for you. So many unfortunately get lost. We have to take care of each other. [This event] is a way to honor veterans and have a good time.”


[Reprinting all or part of this news release is permitted. Please credit the Paint Horse Journal and provide a link to apha.com.]


About APHA

The American Paint Horse Association is the world’s second-largest international equine breed association. Since it was founded in 1962, APHA has registered more than a million horses in 59 nations and territories. APHA promotes, preserves and provides meaningful experiences with Paint Horses. Learn more at apha.com.