Candy Moulton: Healing Hearts One Wagon Train at a Time

Columnist Candy Moulton writes, "Shawn Herring was 31 years old, a young father, cowboy to the core, when he came into the airborne particles of hantavirus – a deadly respiratory illness. Despite his youth, the virus quickly overtook his body and he died shortly after contracting it."

Candy Moulton

April 23, 20245 min read

Candy moulton 4 16 24
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Trimming a horse’s hoof so the animal stands – and therefore walks and runs – better is a skill learned through hours and years of working bent over holding the animal’s foot between your legs. Good farriers can nip the foot, precisely shape a shoe, and nail it in place for that perfect fit and balance.

Nip, use a rasp to shape, nip some more, fit the shoe, tack it on with square-headed nails. The hard labor of shoeing a horse leads to satisfaction when a newly shod horse walks or trots away on feet given just the right care.

Good farriers know that often the horse leans on you more than you’d like, but they do the work anyway. They know every animal needs to lean sometimes.

Dave Herring has been shoeing horses most of his working life. He knows what he does helps them stay sound. That way they can do their job – whether that is moving and working livestock, serving as a “babysitter” to a kid, as many horses are, or any other job of a horse from working in an arena to taking someone down a trail.

Dave was reared in Encampment, Wyoming, and worked on ranches as a boy and young man before he took up his trade as a farrier and relocated to northern Colorado. He passed down to his eldest son Shawn the skill and ability to shoe a horse.

Shawn Herring was 31 years old, a young father, cowboy to the core, in June 2015 when he came into the airborne particles of hantavirus – a deadly respiratory illness associated with rodent – usually mice – droppings.

Despite his youth, the virus quickly overtook his body and he died shortly after contracting it. His parents Dave and Roxanne Herring, brother Justin, and other relatives were devastated.

Besides shoeing them, for years Dave has raised and trained draft horses. Taking a horse-drawn wagon out into mountain country helped Dave and his family recover from the pain of losing Shawn.

The slow rhythm of a wagon rattling down the trail, is cathartic. Being outside with nature, sharing memories and stories with friends and family, helped the Herrings with their healing process. It also led to a desire and calling to help others facing similar grief.

The family formed the Shawn Herring Memorial Foundation and Memorial Ride to draw attention to hantavirus, and importantly to minister to parents who have lost a child, or a child who has lost a parent.

Sometimes the effort is placed on young people who are facing challenges. The chance to camp and be a part of the wagon train – the outdoors, the animals, the caring – can have an effect.

One helpful young man on last year’s wagon train with Dave had been there years before as a surly, withdrawn teenager on the brink of suicide. A week of Dave’s patient and deliberate attention gave the youngster just the nudge he needed to find a solid path for his life.

For this year’s Shawn Herring Memorial Ride, June 3-7, Dave will have horses and wagons at Sheep Creek Ranch, located midway between Laramie and Fort Collins. This event is open to a limited number of people. Accommodations are in a few small cabins, tents, even horse trailers.

Cell phones don’t work in camp, but conversation and music do. In addition to listening to and nurturing people who have a shared grief, Dave does most of the cooking. He can throw the harness on a team and drive it or give a comforting hug. He’s not a counselor, or a minister; instead, he is a dad who knows the pain of deep loss.

The goal of his wagon train is not to get from one point to another, but rather to experience the healing spirit of horses and the land. 

It might rain. It could even snow, or the weather might be late spring warm with wildflowers blooming.  Traveling down a road or trail in a wagon, or on a horse, and sharing stories and chores in camp, is how Dave Herring helps people suffering loss reconnect with the land and with nature. It is how he helps them rekindle hope.

As Dave well knows, a weeklong wagon train won’t heal a broken heart from the loss of a child or parent, but it can be a salve to start or speed the process.

The wagon train concludes on June 7 when Dave and his crew will load the wagons and drive to Centennial, Wyoming, where they take part in an open house to view the mustangs at Deerwood Ranch on June 8. At Deerwood they provide free wagon rides all day.

The wagon train itself costs $200 for the week. For more information contact Dave at 303-517-3912 or at

To learn more about hantavirus visit

Candy Moulton can be reached at

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Candy Moulton

Wyoming Life Columnist

Wyoming Life Columnist