BOULDER, Colo. — For as long as he can remember, Dave Fingers has loved riding horses.
"I got my first horse when I was eight," Fingers said.
It's only been more recently that he's witnessed the profound impact they can have on our mental health.
"If anybody’s ever been around a horse, it’s very calming," Fingers said. "Horses can have a real effect on people. Plus, when you’re around a horse or animal that’s 1,200-1,500 pounds, you have to be present...it just happens that way."
Those powerful moments are part of why he became board president and helps raise money for Operation Equine. The Boulder-based nonprofit provides therapy using horses to military veterans, their families, and first responders.
"Being able to help people get out of their own heads and get out of their own way and give them a reason to want to show up, show up for themselves, show up for other people, and there’s nothing more powerful than watching someone shift around a horse," said Operation Equine founder, Michelle Kaye.
The numbers reflect a heartbreaking reality. Each day nearly 20 veterans die by suicide. Fingers, an army veteran, never deployed but knows the crushing weight carried by those who did.
"A lot of them suffer such bad PTSD that it ends up in suicide. We’ve all heard the story of 22 a day, so that’s why I got involved," Fingers said. "I wanted to help veterans, do what I can to help them - veterans - get easily integrated back into a healthy life."
Thanks to the nonprofit, veterans and first responders have experienced significant shifts.
"They come out here expecting (to find that) these are the issues they need to work on, and working with the horses, they actually find clarity in what, really, the root of the problem is," said Colorado Equine Specialist Marie Hancock.
Fingers may be behind the scenes, but his dedication to the organization and his passion for helping veterans is front and center.
"We wouldn’t be where we are without him. He was an absolute Godsend," Kaye said.
Molly Hendrickson at KMGH first reported this story.