Horses and Heroes of Southeast Florida – Not horsing around with healing

By Patrick McCallister

For Veteran Voice


On July 2, 1967, Frank Libutti was a young lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He was in Vietnam. That’s the day when he, in his own words, “fell in love with the Marines.”

“The battalion I was with was in a big fight in a place called the Market Place in South Vietnam,” he said.

Vietnam War historians have probably already put together the date and place and figured out that Libutti was in Operation Buffalo, which stretched almost two weeks. By the end of it, 159 American servicemembers were killed. Libutti was one of the 845 wounded. One remains missing.

“I was lucky to survive that event,” Libutti said. “Not due to any talent on Frank’s part. Just trying to survive and beat the bad guys. I was wounded three times in one day.”

This is where falling in love with the Marines comes in.

“I survived, because of my troops,” said Libutti. “They took care of me. They saved me.”

Libutti was in the Corps from 1966 to 2001. He attained the rank of lieutenant general, among other credits. He was among the first batch of undersecretaries at the Department of Homeland Security, too. It started in 2002. 

All along, Libutti was carrying post-traumatic stress disorder since Operation Buffalo. 

“You deal with it, because you don’t focus on that all day long as you continue through life,” he said. “You camouflage those feelings.”

A few years ago, Libutti went to an equine-assisted therapy program on the Treasure Coast. He loved it. But, that program shuttered when the founder had to relocate. There was no way that Marine was going to let equine-assisted therapy for local Veterans go away. An equine specialist Libutti met at the program, Karen Woodbury, and he started Horses and Heroes of Southeast Florida in 2021.


Equine-assisted therapy


As its name implies, equine-assisted therapy, also called equine therapy, is a complimentary therapy to other mental-health treatments. In short, it’s getting people and horses together, so is part of the broader category of animal-assisted therapy. While the hard numbers aren’t yet in, equine therapy is generally a respected complementary treatment for a wide range of conditions including anxiety, addiction, depression, and, yes, PTSD. It’s also popular for helping neurodivergent individuals, such as those with autism, develop and keep autonomy.

The “Psychology Today” website’s article on equine-assisted therapy explains it’s “theorized to help patients build confidence, self-awareness, and empathy.”

“During an equine-assisted therapy session, the client will typically engage in basic caretaking activities with the horse with the help and direction of an equine specialist; common examples include grooming the animal, feeding it, and leading it around an enclosure,” the article reads. “They may also take on more complex activities, such as creating a basic obstacle course for the horse and guiding them through it.”

The article later continues, “Because horses have long been domesticated and live alongside humans, it’s thought that they are especially attuned to humans’ emotions and nonverbal signals and that they respond accordingly. While engaging in activities with the horse, the client will attempt to recognize how the horse’s behaviors might be due to their own emotional signals—a client who is angry or anxious, for example, may see the horse pull away or otherwise respond negatively. This ‘mirroring’ process is thought to help the client identify what they’re feeling and potentially modify their emotions for the better, all in a nonjudgmental environment.”

In 2019 Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill giving the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs $200,000 to contract universities to study several complementary therapies, including equine-assisted, for Veterans. Those studies are still underway, as are others.


Horses and Heroes of Southeast Florida


Libutti said about 30 Veterans have gone through the Horses and Heroes of Southeast Florida program. They’ve come from various places.

“What we do, we’ve connected with the VA hospital in West Palm Beach and the Banyan Treatment Centers here in Stuart, Florida,” Libutti said.

Additionally, Horses and Heroes works with Indian River State College’s Veterans Center of Excellence, local Veterans organizations, and others to find clients. Additionally, individuals can contact Horses and Heroes of Southeast Florida through the website,

Groups that’d like to have Libutti speak about what Horses and Heroes is doing can also contact him through the website.

The program is free to participating Veterans.

“The bottom line in terms of what we share with people is this, (we’re) connecting the soul of a Veteran with the spirit of a horse,” he said.




Photo courtesy of Horses and Heroes of Southeast Florida- Equine specialist Karen Woodbury stands with one of Horses and Heroes of Southeast Florida’s therapy horses. The equine-assisted therapy not for profit started in 2021.

Invasion of the Border Ruffians – Guerrilla gang muscles into Kansas territory, foreshadowing Civil War

Mary Kemper

Staff Writer


  In this day and age of “trigger warnings” and “speech is violence,” there is no doubt our nation is deeply polarized between the competing ideologies of social engineering versus common sense. People are punished by an entire segment of society merely by having the “wrong” opinions.

  It’s a good thing we don’t live in the Kansas and Missouri of the mid-1800s. Back then, in the runup to the Civil War, “trigger warnings” involved actual triggers. And knives, clubs, fists and torches.

  Most of the political polarization back then revolved around slavery — whether to allow it or not in territories headed for statehood.

  Various presidents and Congressmen of the time sought to achieve compromises year after year, but everyone knew they were just temporary band-aids. Slaveowners were determined to keep their labor supply, and abolitionists were just as determined to stop the practice.

  Things reached a flash point when it was the turn of Kansas and Nebraska territories to be made states. The balance of power in the legislature was at stake.

   Fiery speeches weren’t good enough. Desperate times called for desperate measures. It was time to take off the gloves.


The blurring of lines


  By the mid-1800s, everyone knew which states were slave-holding and which were not. The Southern states, with their economy based on labor-intensive crops like sugar and cotton, relied on slaves to keep the engine running. Northern states were more diversified, with their economies a mixture of industrialization and agriculture. Without a need for vast numbers of laborers, Northerners were able to object to the human wrongs being done without any consequences to themselves.

  The Mason-Dixon Line (originally stemming from a landholder dispute with King Charles) more or less separated the two halves of the country. But the loyalties of the people in the states along its border were not as unified as states further up or down.

  But the division of loyalties came into very sharp focus in the new territories.

  It’s one thing to grumble about your state being either slave or free, but you can’t really do much about it once it’s the law. If you can get in on the ground floor, however, before a territory becomes a state, you’ve got a chance to make sure your way becomes the law.

  This was the way things stood when the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed in 1854.


Putting beliefs into action


  After defeating the numerous Plains Indian tribes (including the lethal and skillful Cheyenne, Comanche and Sioux offshoots like the Lakota) and forcing them out of the Kansas and Nebraska territories, the region was opened up for settlement.

  Immediately, thousands of people from both pro- and anti-slavery beliefs hurried to move in, hoping that force of numbers would win the day when the statehood elections were held.

  When elections finally came — to under a cloud of corruption to become a slave state — all hell broke loose.

  On this March 30, 1855, a band of pro-slavery Missourians invaded Kansas. Their aim was nothing less than voter intimidation by whatever means necessary, and it worked. Even though the election was clearly rigged, the legislature reluctantly signed off on pro-slavery status.

  Slave-state settlers, dubbed “Border Ruffians,” and free-staters, dubbed “jayhawkers,” attacked each other with a vengeance, destroying farmhouses, crops and machinery, businesses, and even entire towns alike.

  (The term “jayhawkers” came from founding father John Jay, who was one of the earliest abolitionists.)

  One of the most famous jayhawker leaders was preacher John Brown, whose career ended in infamy just four years later at the rebellion of Harper’s Ferry, W.Va. The man of God was an enthusiastic believer in an eye for an eye, personally killing five pro-slavery men at Potawatomie, Kansas.

  The slave-state gangs, on the other hand, did not have a defined leadership. They were united only in the wish to keep Black Americans out of their communities. The moniker “Border Ruffians” encompassed them all in a loose unit.

  Thus the Border Ruffian and jayhawker guerrilla gangs were born. Their five-year, mini version of the bigger war to come caused 56 known deaths, though some historians say it was closer to 200. Untold sums of property and assets were destroyed.

  And some of their “alumni” would go down in American criminal history for all time.


Ruffians become raiders


  It was John Brown’s rebellion in Harper’s Ferry in 1859 that sparked the flame of open national warfare. For five years, Brown’s jayhawkers had battled the Border Ruffians.

  The Civil War then claimed most of the Border Ruffians and Free-Staters into the ranks of the armies both North and South.

  But that wasn’t the end of the guerrilla fighting in Kansas.

  Two young leaders emerged from the ranks of Border Ruffians and their sympathizers to carry on the partisan fighting in the region. They would achieve a level of fame in their own right, and in the case of one, a disciple who would become enshrined in the legends of the Wild West.

  William Quantrill, originally from Ohio, was a member of a group of bounty hunters who captured escaped slaves before joining the Confederate army. His band of partisan rangers became known as Quantrill’s Raiders, who quickly developed a reputation for brutality. They eventually deserted the army and headed to Texas — taking with them one Jesse James, his brother Frank, and others who would earn criminal notoriety.


Raiders become gangsters


  In Texas, one of Quantrill’s lieutenants was William “Bloody Bill” Anderson, originally a horse thief. 

  Anderson, possibly falsely, implicated Quantrill in a murder, leading to the latter’s arrest (and subsequent release) by Confederate authorities. Anderson then returned to Missouri as the leader of his own group of raiders and became the most feared guerrilla in the state, robbing, raping and killing a large number of Union soldiers and civilian sympathizers. The James brothers went back up north with him.

  Both bands of guerrillas cut a terrible swath of destruction, if on a smaller scale than the main armies at war.

  They robbed and killed passengers on stagecoaches and trains, looted and pillaged whole towns, killed soldiers, and massacred unarmed soldiers and civilians alike. In just two years, they were responsible for an estimated death toll in the thousands.


Criminal legacy


  Both Quantrill’s and Anderson’s guerrillas were relentlessly hunted by Union forces.

  The federals caught up with Quantrill in an ambush in southwestern Kentucky. He was shot and paralyzed from the waist down, and transported to a military prison in Louisville, where he died. He was just 27.

  Thanks to a tipoff, Anderson was tracked down in Albany, Missouri, where Union troops shot and killed him in a firefight with his band. He was 24.

  It’s easy to see where Jesse James, his brother Frank, the Younger brothers and other lesser known ex-guerrillas earned their criminal stripes. Honed in the crucible of avoiding entire battalions, eluding law enforcement was an easy task. Indeed, most of the biggest bank robbers and murderers of the Wild West weren’t brought down by lawmen, but by betrayal of comrades, as was the case with Jesse James.

  Something of the romance of the Wild West desperadoes clung to the notorious criminals of the 1920s and ‘30s, men like John Dillinger, Al Capone and other charismatic figures — most of whom had their own private gangs.

  It was not until the lawmen themselves, the Pinkerton detectives and later the FBI, became romanticized that the cult of the Border Ruffians was finally laid to rest.


Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons – Two unidentified pro-slavery “border ruffians” pose for a photograph with swords in Clinton, Iowa, before heading to Kansas to confront anti-slavery “free-staters,” circa mid 1850s.