MAGNA — On a worn-out piece of land not far from the county landfill bordered by a busy highway on one side and a power plant on the other, Tony Pistone and his wife, Esther, sit on a couple of folding chairs and admire the view.
They’re not looking at the few scraggly trees or the barren dirt. They’re sure not looking at the traffic or the power lines.
They’re looking at the horses and the people fussing over them.
Tony and Esther run a string of 28 horses on the two acres Kennecott donated to them at the intersection of 8000 West and state Route 201.
First thing they did once they untrailered the horses was pull in the ancient motor home, also donated, that serves as their office and hung up a sign that reads:
“Headin’ Home Horse Rescue: Equine Therapy for Veterans, First Responders and Others of Need.”
The sign explains that the Pistones are in the rescue business.
They take in horses that are broken and humans that are broken — and help make them whole.
Tony and Esther are not psychologists or psychiatrists or trained social workers. Nor do they pretend to be. What they are are people who have seen magical things happen when human beings and horses spend quality time together.
“The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a human,” says Tony, who quickly adds: “Don’t say this is my quote because a lot of people have said it. But it’s true.”
“Horses help with everything,” adds Esther.
They started Headin’ Home as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization 3½ years ago, modeling it after a horse rescue and PTSD rehab program Tony’s son, Dave, had worked with in California. Dave Pistone died unexpectedly, and far too soon, of a heart attack in February 2015. He was just 49. At the time, Tony, who turned 73 this year, had recently retired. He and Esther decided they’d like to spend their golden years doing something similar in Utah to what Dave had been doing in California.
“There was nothing really like it here – in terms of help for vets, first responders and people in need because of abuse and depression,” says Esther.
They decided their doors would be open to all comers, horses and people, at no charge.
They weren’t going to get rich doing this, although they could go broke.
“We don’t have a trust fund,” observes Esther. She and Tony get their Social Security checks every month and a small pension and that’s it.
Donations, volunteers and the unbounded generosity of others – alongside Tony and Esther’s passion – have enabled Headin’ Home to stay afloat.
“They say if a nonprofit can make it five years it will make it,” Tony says with understated cowboy logic. “Well, we’re coming up on four.”
That’s four years worth of watching veterans, first responders and “others of need” get help from horses, and horses get help right back.
Tony, who grew up loving horses, knows firsthand what the vets are experiencing. He served in Vietnam in the 1960s, returned with PTSD, and quickly got reacquainted with his horse. He found solace in equine therapy before anyone called it that.
“Sometimes you can leave PTSD in the closet, but most of the time you can’t,” says Tony. “A horse makes it easier to carry the baggage.”
Adds Esther: “A horse helps you to realize that there’s more in life than just your nightmares, your struggles, your depression. If you’ve been hurt, you don’t feel it as much when you’re around horses; you look into those big beautiful eyes and everything else just disappears.”
The same can be true for horses. Headin’ Home brings in wild and domestic horses that have been mistreated and abused and shows them that not all humans are alike.1 comment on this story
Esther points with obvious pride to “her” horse, Savannah. When Savannah came to Headin’ Home, she was 300 pounds underweight, skittish as all get out, and scared of her own shadow. Now, she walks around with her head up and licks Esther every chance she gets.
Every day, as the traffic whizzes by on Highway 201, it’s this kind of therapy that occurs in one variation or another on the worn-out two acres Headin' Home calls home.
Watching it happen from their folding chairs is Tony and Esther’s pay.