LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Bright and early every Friday morning, a group of veterans pass through the gates of Spirit Therapies and into a safe place.
“They know they can connect with their horse. They know they can talk to me. They know they can just sit and have a cup of coffee. It’s a collaboration between all these men and women," said Laurie Willmott, the owner.
Over the 20 years Willmott has been running the therapeutic riding center, she’s fostered a come-as-you-are environment that breeds connection, healing and joy.
“I just call it the Spirit family," Willmott said. "Once you’ve passed the gates, you’re part of the family even if you’re here only once. You’ll understand when you leave. Spirit to me is my heart.”
And it Is with Willmott’s big heart and generous spirit, that she has come to change the lives of thousands of people - including veteran Tony Jones, who retired as a Major in the Air Force after serving more than 25 years.
“That first time I remember coming, I stayed about an hour, hour and a half and was introduced to the horses," Jones said. "I left and was like, what did I just do? I gave that horse a massage for like an hour. Cleaned his hooves and what did I do? Then I realized, I was smiling.”
Jones said when he first came to Spirit Therapies, he was in a dark place. But after months of working with his horse Buddy, he shifted toward the light.
“You get engaged. You’re busy. You’re focused on the horse. You’re challenged because this is a problem solving situation here. You’ve got to look at the horse, they look at you. They see how you’re feeling. You see how they’re feeling and purposeful. It’s just good. It’s good for your soul," said Willmott.
Working with his horse taught Jones how to love again.
And it’s in getting to witness these life-altering connections that Willmott said make her feel like the lucky one.
“A lot of times I’m just in the corner listening," said Willmott. "Just listening heals people. The horses don’t judge them. The horses stand there. You look at John, that horse could go away if it wanted to, but it doesn’t.”
After more than 20 years of helping people heal, Willmott is not going away either. Her life’s work makes Vegas a better place. That’s why she’s our Vegas Stronger Champion.