Air Force Airman 1st Class Lauren Nolan remembers running around the woods of North Carolina trying to catch a wild horse while she was a kid. She had fallen in love with a flea-bitten, little gray Arabian horse that nobody could manage to catch — except her.
Not yet tall enough to put the halter on, she remembers, she would put the rope around the horse’s neck and look to her dad for help.
For Nolan, a 22nd Logistics Readiness Squadron materials management journeyman, this is where her passion for horses began, and that passion continues to be a blessing in her Air Force career.
“She can pick up on a horse’s personality in a second; she has a natural gift with them,” said Teresa Nolan, the airman’s mother. “Lauren would always get up really early. By the time I woke up, she would already be out in the pasture to see her horse and have her tied up, grooming her by herself.”
Stationed at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas since 2015, Lauren has two horses that occupy her time: Tiz Sunshine, 4 years-old, and Shoobie, 6 years-old — both off-the-track thoroughbreds. She boards them in the local community and spends her off-duty time taking care of them and training them for barrel racing.
“When I leave work, if I’m not helping out at the barn, I’m working with them on barrels,” Nolan said. “Shoobie is a diva, and Tiz is a little doll button. If you’re trying to teach Shoobie something and she doesn’t understand, she’ll give you attitude right back. Tiz will do whatever you tell her; she doesn’t care. She will stand there, look at you and stick her tongue out at you — she is so quirky.”
Much as a military training instructor develops civilians into airmen, training horses takes the same time and perseverance, although it’s a milder process. Nolan works with the horses almost every day, and has even set individual goals for them. She wants them to be patterned with the barrels and running well by the spring, she said.
“I have to have a lot of patience,” she added. “You can’t take a 1,200-pound animal and turn it into a superstar overnight. It takes months and months, but it’s very rewarding to take a horse that didn’t really have a chance, work with it and make it into something.”
Nolan also uses patience at work. She works in an office ordering aircraft parts for the KC-135 Stratotanker. The stress of having the responsibility of ordering millions of dollars’ worth of equipment and the potential for mistakes can be somewhat daunting. If she has a bad day at work, she said, her outlet for stress is in the dusty barn and muddy pasture.
“It’s very relaxing to go and just hang out with them and get rid of all the stressors of the day,” Nolan said. “My family is over 1,000 miles away. I can’t see them but once a year, so the horses mean everything to me. Tiz and Shoobie have helped me more than anything else ever could.”
With the unique challenges military members face, from frequent moves to deployments, everybody needs a way to unwind. Spending time with the horses is Nolan’s way, and realizing how much Tiz and Shoobie help her, she is sharing this experience with others.
“Every once in a while, I’ll take airmen out to see them so they can have their little getaway,” she said. “They could come ride them, brush them or just interact with the horses to help them cope with whatever they’re dealing with.”
Nolan also brings airmen’s families out to see the horses. She specifically wants to help first-term airmen who are new to base, as well as children with deployed parents, she said.
“I take anybody out to see the horses who needs it,” she added. “Being on base and in military life is stressful for a lot of the people. It has impacted and helped everybody I have ever brought out there — you can see it. The kids grin, laugh and giggle the whole time. It’s instant. They get all giddy the moment they see them.”
Just as Nolan takes pride in her work as an airman, she has pride in her horses. When she brings other people out to the barn to see Tiz and Shoobie, she said, she wants them to look their best.
“It’s in her nature, it’s who she is and what she loves,” Teresa Nolan said. “Lauren will do whatever she has to do to keep them healthy and well-fed, even it means she’s not going to have something, just to take care of the horses.”
She gets off work and switches from combat boots to cowboy boots. When she gets to the barn and heads to the pasture to round up the horses, she stops in her tracks. She’s got fellow airmen coming to the barn to see the horses and Shoobie looks like a walking mud puddle from rolling on the ground after a night of Kansas rain.
With a sigh, a few words mumbled under her breath and a hint of smile, she gets the watering hose and brush. Here they go again.