Operation Free Ride announced that May 19 will be the official kick-off date for the nationwide program that allows members of the military to ride horses for free.
Equestrian facilities across the United States can sign up with Operation Free Ride, a program developed by the Armed Forces Foundation and Horses4Heroes. The Armed Forces Foundation has since ceased operations but they now support Hire Our Heroes, Team Rubicon, The Mission Continues, and The Yellow Ribbon Fund. Members of the military may contact facilities directly and set up an appointment to ride at no charge, and their family members are also eligible for the program.
Sydney Knott, president of Horses4Heros, said Operation Free Ride is focused on offering a family activity for people who have wanted to ride but thought it wouldn’t be affordable. Horses4Heros is a coalition of horse businesses and owners that focuses on making horses an affordable and accessible hobby for military, veterans, firefighters, law enforcement officers, and critical care and hospice nurses.
Participating facilities are encouraged to hold open houses on May 19, Armed Forces Day, for the program launch.
Knott said any riding facility with insurance and horses may join. “It’s all about getting new people out to our sport,” she said. “We have an opportunity to put aside our breeds and disciplines. Let’s just get these people out there riding horses.”
The Armed Forces Foundation supports members of the military through outreach programs. Knott said they have other outdoor sports programs, but this is the first horseback-riding program.
Almost 100 facilities have signed up so far for Operation Free Ride, and the numbers are still increasing.
“We’ve had an extremely enthusiastic response from the horse community,” Knott said.