Taylor and I are in Warner, SD home of the DTOM-220 Veterans Ranch. Where Chris Rederis bringing Equine-Assisted Therapy to veterans all across America.
“That’s how you make change. That’s how you make differences in people’s lives. You have to focus on what you want out of life, and if you don’t, you’ll never accomplish it and he’s accomplishing it,” said Tracy Diefenbach, PhD. “He’s a hard-working man and he’s been running this, you know with his board members, but he’s running the majority of the mission on his own, with his horse.”
Dr. Tracy Diefenbach works with Chris Reder at the DTOM 22/0 Veteran’s Ranch just outside of Warner. Chris started the DTOM 22/0 Foundation in 2018. “DTOM 22/0 Foundation and Veteran’s Ranch stands for the ‘Don’t tread on me’,” said Chris Reder. “And the 22 is the average number of veterans we lose every day to suicide in this country. And zero, that’s our mission.”
Chris joined the Navy at age 17 and served for 10 years. After working a 12 hour-shift one night, Chris was driving his motorcycle and a car pulled out in front of him. He sustained major injuries to his arm, along with a traumatic brain injury. It ultimately motivated him to make a difference with veteran’s that are struggling.
“In the big picture, it helps other vets and that’s what we’re supposed to do because we took an oath to take care of our brothers and sisters. And, we’re gonna honor that here. And we work tirelessly every, seven days a week,” Chris Reder said. “Once we have a purpose again, everything starts to fall back into place. But, when you get out of the military and you lose that, it’s really hard,”
Chris works with his horse Max to provide an unusual, but effective method to support veterans with PTSD, chemical dependency and all types of neurological issues.
“He is trained in equine-assisted Draper Sensory Method. So, his movement in his rear hips, when the rider is facing backwards, riding bareback, creates a frequency in their spine and can alter their brainwaves. So, the participant that’s struggling with traumatic brain injuries or PTSD, or, or anxiety or stress levels, this absolutely neutralizes all the chemical imbalances in the brain,” said Chris Reder. “We can start actually helping them repair their damage in their brains.”
Lifelong Warner resident, Larry Stroschein, served in the Army Reserve and works with Chris at the local Post 137 in town, where Chris serves as vice commander. “I just can’t comprehend how somebody riding a horse backwards, how that energy from that horse’s body can go through a human’s mind and help them get through their PTSD problems. It, to me, it’s just absolutely a miracle.,” said Larry Stroschein.
The veterans and other stewards around Warner helped Chris’s mission and built him a magnificent arena. “We run on a very minimalistic budget,” said Chris Reder. “We had some great people that showed up and we raised money and we built this magnificent facility for the indoor therapy arena. And, and three local construction companies got involved and helped with some volunteers and we got it done last fall,” said Chris Reder.
Whether it be horse assisted therapy, counseling, fire-side chats, or the love of the land around these parts, the investment is paying dividends for veterans in need. “We train everybody how to go to war and fight, but we don’t train them how to come back and live with hope and purpose again,” said Tracy Diefenbach, PhD. “You get lost in civilian life because people don’t understand what you’ve seen, what you’ve been through. So, that’s our biggest mission is we have to give vets purpose and help them find that hope again, in order to help them survive.”
“Just that camaraderie makes such a difference and, and we’ve had veterans here from Minnesota for the last several weekends, that spent the whole weekend receiving therapy. And, and I think some of the comments we heard was, one said that she ‘fell in love with life again.’ Another one said she ‘finally found peace’, said Chris Reder.
“So, a place like this, it kinda let’s you open up a little bit,” said Mike Huether.
“Right, open up and let the demons out,” said Larry Stroschein.
“Suicide. That’s, that’s a really tough subject, especially for people of your generation. You know, for years, it was king of one of those things you just didn’t talk about.” said Mike Huether.
“You kind of wonder how people would think that committing suicide would be better than living. But back in the farm crisis of the 80’s, I lost my farm, cattle, and it was tough then. I wasn’t wounded physically, but it sure wounded me mentally,” said Larry Stroschein.
Again, it is so hard to fathom, but the Department of Veteran’s Affairs says that 22 veterans commit suicide on average every single day. “We found it as a mission and a purpose and we have to do something about it and, and make a difference in these people’s lives. So, giving them hope again, is just hugely therapeutic for them and gives them a new life,” said Chris Reder.
“If there’s any people with earshot of KELOLAND that would see this that would need help. And, they would say, ‘Maybe we out to go up to Warner and talk to Chris, because I am really suffering, and maybe he can help me.’,” said Larry Stroschein.
“I think as, as a people and as a nation, there’s, there’s a very small percent that, that actually sign up and offer their life for their nation and service. And we as a people, it’s our duty to take care of those people when they come home. We can’t because it is not enough to just simply say, ‘Thank you for your service and have a nice day’, because it is not enough,” said Chris Reder.
To help Chris help veterans who have sacrificed so much, consider a tax deductible donation to the D-TOM 22/0 Foundation. Go to DTOM220.org. Or call 605-725-D-TOM. Care is provided at no cost to the veterans or their families.