SHERIDAN — Eddie Paylor admitted that when he arrived in Sheridan, he was running from his problems.
After leaving the military with a broken back, a broken neck and post-traumatic stress, Paylor spent 30 years moving through Veteran’s Affairs programs trying to find relief. It didn’t work, so he tried to ignore the pain, but that just let his physical and mental health further deteriorate.
Paylor described the VA programs as well-intentioned but overburdened and formulaic; if the prescribed treatments weren’t working, there was no plan B — there were too many other patients to get to.
After working with a VA center in Oklahoma City, the staff admitted they didn’t know how to help him and referred him to Sheridan.
At that point, Paylor was about ready to give up.
“I hit bottom, no questions asked,” Paylor said.
Based on the suggestion of a VA official, Paylor reluctantly enrolled in Sheridan’s Children, Horses and Adults in PartnerShip Equine Assisted Therapy program. He didn’t want to do it, but he was willing to try anything. And a few months later, he called it the best decision he’s ever made.
“They have done more for me in the past 13 weeks here than the VA has done for me in 30 years,” Paylor said.
Paylor served in the Army from 1980 to 1988. He started as a mechanic and transferred to become a scout who called in fire missions from artillery.
The role deployed him to places all over the world, from Egypt to Panama to Korea and elsewhere; Paylor said as a scout he spent so much time aboard ships he questioned whether he had transferred into the Navy.
During one of the missions, he saw one of his friends die. The incident haunted him and developed into a case of PTSD.
His military career ended when he broke his back and his neck after falling down three flights of stairs with duffel bags strapped to his back and chest. He has had two major surgeries due to the injuries and will require four more.
Paylor sought help through the VA and when it didn’t work, he tried to move forward anyway.
After the Army, Paylor worked as a health and safety officer doing hazmat inspections in New Jersey before his back pain became too severe to do the walking the job required. He took a job as a truck driver and moved up to become a Department of Transportation inspector for Rocky Mountain Trucking but, again, complications from his back injury required him to step away in 2009.
In January, his right leg gave out and he collapsed, leading to another surgery.
When he arrived at CHAPS in May, Paylor didn’t think the program could help him. He still rolls his eyes when he recalls one of the exercises from that first day. The veterans were told to walk a horse while balancing an egg on a spoon in their other hand. Paylor pointed out that if he had a horse in one hand and a spoon in the other, he wouldn’t be able to use his walker. But he did it anyway. Then he did it again, except the second time he had to balance the egg on a fork.
“They push you here, but they listen,” Paylor said. “Something that had never been done before.”
At CHAPS, therapists could take the time to think outside the box. If something didn’t work, they would approach the problem from another angle. VA treatments tend to be standardized, one-size-fits-all solutions to a myriad of individualized problems.
Though he has completed the eight-week veteran’s program, Paylor still makes weekly trips to the CHAPS barn and has begun working to give back to the program as a volunteer.
And CHAPS executive director Kristen Marcus said Paylor is giving back to the program in a big way.
“He is my fundraising king,” Marcus said. “I think Eddie could sell ice to an Eskimo.”
Since completing the program, Marcus said Paylor has volunteered at every event CHAPS has held.
CHAPS had been leasing a Pony of the Americas named Feather, and the staff and several of the program participants had fallen in love with her. They wanted to buy her but had to find a way to raise the money. Paylor went to the VA and said he essentially panhandled a couple-hundred dollars. That money was used to make hats with the CHAPS veteran logo that were then sold to raise money for Feather.
Over the past few weeks, Paylor and his fellow volunteers raised $300 selling hats. They collected the rest of the necessary funds this past weekend at the Tournament of Knights after an anonymous donor kicked in $500 and the captain of the Knights of Mayhem, who participated in the tournament, donated $200.
Paylor said he is happy Feather will be staying in Sheridan, but he is already looking ahead to the next project. CHAPS needs tarps for their hay wagons. It needs a new canopy for its Third Thursday stall and money to buy a new carriage.
There’s a lot of work to be done. But Paylor is prepared to face it head on and help a program that helped him.