HONEOYE FALLS, N.Y. — Nathan Bush gets it when he sees Hero, the horse he's training at Equicenter in Honeoye Falls, tense up and brace to sprint out of the training ring.

"Finding your place and relearning how to relate is a real challenge. On that level, I really feel what he's going through. It's a very similar experience," said Bush who, along with seven others, is learning how to teach some of the most difficult horses on the continent how to get along.

Hero is one of four mustangs to arrive at Equicenter in recent weeks as part of a pilot program that conditions the horses for more domesticated lives.

The federal government has penned 48,000 mustangs, most from the prairies of Wyoming, in an attempt to preserve them. Wild mustangs and burros have never been touched by humans and experience high stress.

They are, like all horses, animals that choose either flight or fight. 



"He's coming from a herd and then he's in a holding pen and all the rules were changed and now he's in a foreign environment," said Alan Wolford of Henrietta, another of the eight people working with the Equicenter's mustangs. 

The horses experience PTSD-like episodes. The people they're working with can empathize.

All at the farm just south of Mendon Ponds Park are military veterans dealing with the after effects of military service and reintegration. Most involved in the experience believe it's helped them.

"Being able to do that myself is what I've learned. I couldn't do it that way," said Bush.



Colleen Belleeza of Rochester, who says she's "a city kid doing country stuff," believes it's made a difference with her ability to cope.

"What a cool concept, to have a horse understand where I'm at and to understand where he's at," Belleeza said. "Sometimes I find myself speechless over what this had done for me."

The Equicenter trains the trainees to "gentle" the horses so they can become trail horses or even competitive horses.

It expects to bring more mustangs, and veterans, into the program later this year.