WELD COUNTY - At the end of the winding roads near the Pawnee National Grasslands is a place where hope springs eternal.
"I was looking for healing," said Karen Kennedy.
It's a search that brought Kennedy and more than 20 others to the Colorado Cattle Company - a dude ranch in Weld County. They're spending the week here doing what cowboys normally do, with lots of hours in the saddle every day.
"I'd like to take him home with me, if I could," Kennedy said of her horse for the week, Coke.
What she and the others here share, though, is more than just an experience outdoors. They also share a tremendous heartbreak.
"Everyone here has lost a loved one due to military service—some have lost a child, some have lost a spouse and some have lost a sibling," said Kylynn Maxwell, TAPS Retreat Coordinator
For Karen, it was her son, Jeffrey.
For Kylynn Maxwell, it was her husband, Nathan.
For Kevin Graves, it was his son, Joseph.
All of them are at the ranch because of the non-profit group called TAPS – the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.
"It's just not an easy thing to live through and adventures like this help you realize you can survive," Graves said.
The adventure at the Colorado Cattle Co. comes thanks to each horse a survivor is paired up with. Tom Carr is the ranch owner.
"I'll tell you, it's been a really heartwarming experience for us to be able to give back to them for the sacrifice they've made,” Carr said, “And there is no greater sacrifice."
This form of equine therapy is part challenge, but all fun. It demonstrates a special bond between rider and horse.
"We have come to an understanding and I think he thinks he's the boss,” Graves said with a laugh about his horse, Engine.
Kennedy had a similar experience with her horse, Coke.
"We had a disagreement,” she said. “We were looking in each other's eyes and I'm like, 'You're going to be stuck with me all week, Coke. And we're going to do great."
They proved just that this week: to both their horses and themselves, in more way than one.
"That's been the biggest enjoyment for me is to see the beautiful landscape,” Kennedy said, adding, "I'm taking back a whole new family."
For more information about the work that the group TAPS does, or if you would like more information about their programs, go to www.taps.org