Sycamore Creek Saddles is a custom saddle company based in Montana.  This year they gave away a Saddle for a Soldier Contest and the winner was Steven of Elizabethton, TN.  I got the chance to travel with the owner of SSC and we went out to their farm to see his new saddle and meet his horse.

Steven’s wife, Julia nominated him for the award.  Her post tells of how this saddle will help Steven in his horseback riding and will help improve his bond with his horse even more! In her post this is what she shared:

It is an honor to nominate my husband, Steven Sochalski, for the Sycamore Creek Saddle for a Soldier Giveaway. Although he would never claim such a title, my husband is a true American hero, the likes of which are so rare to find in my generation. Steven is a loving husband, a dedicated father to his two children, a tireless worker, a strong Christian, and a kind friend to all who need one. I am honored to be his wife of three years, and I will never stop advocating for anything that will bring him joy and health.

Steven enlisted in the United States Army in 2006 as an Infantryman. After completing basic training, he was stationed in Alaska at Fort Wainwright and was a driver for a 20-ton, 8-wheeled armored Stryker vehicle. After serving as a driver for the vehicle, he was assigned as a Stryker vehicle commander. He was responsible for the maneuvering the 4 million dollar vehicle, operating the .50 caliber machine gun or the 40mm grenade launcher. He was also responsible for lives of the 8 soldiers the vehicle transported. In 2009, Steven was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq. While there, he was promoted to Sergeant amidst the constant backdrop of mortars and fear that became commonplace. Steven does not talk much about his deployment, and I do not pry.

Although he had planned to commit his life to career military service, Steven was injured while in Iraq and was sent to Landstuhl, Germany for medical care in 2010, where he remained for two weeks before returning to his station in Washington State. He was temporarily assigned to a Warrior Transition Battalion for Injured Soldiers, and then became the S1 (Personnel) Non Commissioned Officer for his Battalion while the unit was still deployed. When the Unit returned, a medical evaluation board was initiated on Steven. He received a medical separation from the Army and was initially rated at 80% disabled by the Department of Veteran Affairs. This was raised to 100% and he was found unemployable do the combination of his disabilities, which include a herniated intervertebral disk, two bulging disks, early onset arthritis in both knees, stress fractures in his shins, and arguably the most debilitating, combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Always a man of honor, Steven received several awards during his service with the US Army, including two Army Commendation Medals, five Army Achievement Medals, a Meritorious Unit Commendation, a Presidential Unit Citation, an Army Good Conduct Medal, a National Defense Service Medal, a Global War on Terrorism Medal, an Iraq Campaign Medal, an Army Service Ribbon, two Overseas Service Ribbons, a Combat Infantryman Badge, a Driver and Mechanic Badge, and an Expert Marksman Badge. He also climbed Mount Rainier to 10,000 feet as part of a promotion eligibility board prior to his deployment to Iraq.

As God would have it, Steven married a woman with a psychology degree and a lifetime passion for horses… a great combination for introducing Steven to riding and caring for horses as a therapeutic activity. After a year of helping me with barn chores and hard horse work, I finally asked him if he would like to try the fun part! I also knew well the benefits that horses present for sufferers of PTSD. Together, we searched for the right horse for Steven, and due to his physical issues, we decided on a very smooth, very sweet Tennessee Walking Horse. When we got him, Stewie was just a three-year-old from an old horse trader I know. Stewie came to us with a terrible cold, underweight, and green. After tons of TLC, Steven’s horse has blossomed into a gorgeous, well-behaved, kind gelding. I handled the training, we share the daily care, and now it is time for Steven and Stewie to enjoy riding together. During their first rides, they used an old saddle the horse trader had included when we bought Stewie, which I approved because I knew the young horse had a lot of growing left to do. Steven was amazed at how relaxed he was after a peaceful ride, and was excited about quieted symptoms of PTSD. I noticed how much calmer, and more serene my husband was after spending time with his horse—what a miracle. Then, months ago, I noticed that Steven wasn’t riding on his own, and would sometimes not even ride if I tacked Stewie up and rode. Although Steven didn’t want to admit it and rarely complains, the old saddle was causing him back pain. I have also noticed that it seems to be causing Stewie back pain, and now neither one is enjoying riding. It is time for a properly fitted, comfortable saddle for Stewie and Steven, or my husband will likely not enjoy riding again.

Now Steven is facing another MRI to determine if the VA will recommend a third epidural for back pain. This saddle giveaway could not have come at a more perfect time. My husband and his horse both need and deserve to be well-fitted in a beautiful CTK saddle from Sycamore Creek Saddles. As his number one advocate, I would love nothing more than to see Steven and Stewie happily and comfortably riding into the sunset. Not only is my husband a national hero, he is my personal hero. Thank you to Sycamore Creek Saddles for the opportunity to share Steven’s story and for this giveaway.

It was an honor to spend the day with Julia and Steven on their farm.

If you are looking for a custom saddle for you and your horse be sure to check out Sycamore Creek Saddles!


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