Talked down from suicide, York County Army vet finds peace in equine therapy

Sgt. Ernie Speck says the equine therapy program at Leg Up Farm has taught him to rebuild the relationships in his life.

Story by: Anthony Machcinski
Sgt. Ernie Speck of Dallastown works with Biscuit recently at Leg Up Farm, a therapeutic center in Mount Wolf. (Photo by Ken Bruggeman/Our York Media)

Sgt. Ernie Speck looked into the icy Susquehanna River last February ready to jump.

He’d heard of others who took their lives at the Dock Street Dam in Harrisburg. If the current doesn’t kill me, the 43-year-old thought, hypothermia will.

Then an older gentleman walked up behind him. They started talking. He, too, was a veteran, Ernie learned. Both had bad experiences coming home from war; Ernie from Iraq, the old man from Vietnam.

Eventually, Ernie stepped off the ledge. He later took the man’s advice to get treatment at the Lebanon VA Medical Center.

“I absolutely feel blessed,” Ernie says today. “I was given another chance.”

***

For five or six years after his deployment to Iraq in 2011, Ernie began a dark spiral.

He had issues readjusting to a civilian lifestyle and couldn’t shake the memories of combat. Depression and anxiety caused him to become isolated.

It’s helping me learn how to rebuild the relationships with my children and my wife because I was in such a bad place.

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Sgt. Ernie Speck

“There just wasn’t anywhere I could go that I felt safe or comfortable,” Ernie says. “Those suffering from PTSD are at a heightened state of alert. You’re completely watchful all the time, and you’re separated from the buddies who had your back overseas.”

Those inescapable feelings led him to the dam.

***

After several months in the VA, Ernie returned to his hometown of Dallastown.

In July, through the York County Veterans Treatment Court, he discovered equine therapy at Leg Up Farm, a therapeutic center in Mount Wolf. There, a once-wild mustang named Biscuit changed his life.

He spent a month grooming and cleaning Biscuit. Just being around the horse started to change Ernie’s composure.

Today, Ernie rides Biscuit around the facility as if they’ve worked together for years.

“With a horse, you have this personal relationship, and you have to earn its love and respect,” Ernie says. “It’s helping me learn how to rebuild the relationships with my children and my wife because I was in such a bad place.”

Today, he tries to help others struggling with mental health, like that Vietnam vet who had helped him.

“There are guys who have been through it,” Ernie says. “Veterans who come home and go through those things need to know that there’s a road back.”

Click here to learn more about Leg Up Farm

Sponsored by York County Department of Veterans Affairs

Visit: York County VA website
yorkvet@yorkcountypa.gov
717-771-9218
28 E. Market St. York, PA 17401

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