(2011 – )
Owned by BraveHearts Therapeutic Riding and Educational Center
Inducted: 2023


In his four years of equine employment at BraveHearts Therapeutic Riding and Educational Center in Illinois, Winston has not only become one of the most requested mounts of the program's 50-horse herd, he has earned Special Olympic gold medals, ridden through Chicago, Washington DC, and New York City to promote veteran suicide prevention, and served as equine ambassador at countless veteran's events.

Whether his rider is a small child with cerebral palsy, or a veteran with PTSD, Winston brings his inner calm, steady steps and gentle, soft energy to every interaction. In recognition of his intangible contributions and over 1,600 hours of service, Winston was selected as the 2022 PATH International Equine of the Year.

But none of this would have been possible if it hadn't been for a chance encounter on a crowded Texas dry lot one evening in early 2019.

BraveHearts President and Chief Operating Officer, Meggan Hill-McQueeney, is always on the lookout for future therapy horses for the program. Not just any horse can fit the bill--they must be empathetic, kind, and forgiving, among other qualities. Hill-McQueeney had heard of a facility in Texas with several promising potential therapy horses for sale, so she and fellow certified therapeutic riding instructor (and veteran) Mitchell Reno went to check them out. While enroute, they got lost, and didn't arrive until after dark.

"We rode the horses they wanted us to try," says Hill-McQueeney. "But I saw a whole pen full of other horses--there were a bunch of them in there. It had a big manure pile, and I remember thinking it wasn't the ideal spot for horses to be turned out."

When they entered the pen, a thin, bay roan gelding seemed to seek them out. Everywhere they walked, he followed, almost as if glued to Hill-McQueeney's left shoulder. The ranch hand showing them around explained that the gelding had run through a local sale; he was around 15 years old, and though the ranchers recognized his brand, someone had not cared for him well in recent years.

"He was just skin and bones when he got there, so they called him Skinner," remembers Hill-McQueeney.

Looking at the horse's kind eye, the meaning behind his name hit her like a punch in the gut.

In addition to being underweight (though improved from his arrival), the horse seemed to be extremely head shy, and had terribly maintained feet. But he was steady enough under saddle at the walk and trot, and later, as they continued to try other horses, the gelding followed them along the fence line. When they finally went to leave, he stood and watched them from the gate.

On the way home, Hill-McQueeney couldn't get the bay roan out of her mind.

"He had obviously been seriously mistreated, probably hit in the head for him to be that head shy," recalls Hill-McQueeney. "For him to still want to be around people, for him to even trust us--can you imagine what a forgiving heart he has?"

On January 31, 2019, the gelding-- renamed Winston, in honor of Winston Churchill--made the journey from Texas to Illinois. Almost immediately, Winston flourished under the compassionate care of the team at BraveHearts. He gained weight, his hooves improved, his coat began to shine, and a sparkle returned to his eye. He quickly won the hearts of participants, volunteers, and staff.

"He is the beginner horse, the perfect first-time horse, especially for individuals or veterans with PTSD or anxiety," explains Hill-McQueeney. "He is so non-intimidating, even in how calmly he steps up to the mounting block. He just makes everybody comfortable with him."

During COVID, Winston and his equine friend Hank (the 2017 PATH International Equine of the Year and fellow Horse Stars Hall of Fame Inductee) visited with hundreds of patients at VA hospitals to spread good cheer. These equine ambassadors have also been known to visit patients on hospice, and have even participated in a 101st birthday party for a WWII veteran.

As Hill-McQueeney thinks back over Winston's time with BraveHearts to date, it is hard for her to believe how far "the horse that picked them" has come.

"He is completely transformed," says Hill-McQueeney. "He is so sweet, so kind, and tries so hard. He is so careful with every single rider who comes near him. He is a total blessing, and a Cinderalla story."