News: San Diego ranch helps heal veterans
Story by Lance Cpl. Eric Quintanilla
SAN DIEGO - Service members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder have many tools to assist them and with the help of Valenti Ranch in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., they have one more.
Valenti Ranch is home of The Pegasus Rising Project who rescued and re-purposed a herd of Polish Arabian horses from a life of abuse through neglect.
“Our mission is to partner horses and humans for healing,” said Gary Adler, President and CEO of The Pegasus Rising Project.
The horses are now being used by various veteran organizations for animal therapy, to help those suffering from PTSD. Last year alone, they brought in more than 1,000 participants, the majority being military members that come on a weekly basis to interact with the herd.
“It feels like the animals got rescued, and in return they’re trying to rescue the service men and women that need help,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jonathan White, operations chief, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment. “It’s a relaxing, quiet environment with animals that have similarities with [post traumatic stress disorder] veterans.”
Due to the horses being undomesticated, they offer a unique opportunity for the service members to connect with them. According to Adler, horses are naturally prey animals and share similar characteristics with those suffering from PTSD or traumatic brain injuries.
“Most of the horses have come a long way too, and have dramatically improved in terms of openness to people,” said Adler. “An undomesticated or wild horse won’t allow anything to get within about 15 to 20 feet of it unless it trusts it. So the horses are definitely much more engaged now.”
Adler uses the horses to encourage service members to strive for success and to stay committed to the program.
“The big message we try to convey is that everybody heals at a different pace or rate. There’s no right or wrong about it,” said Adler. “The key is not to judge or rush it because it’s an individualized thing.”
The Pegasus Rising Project receives help from Marines about every two months as well as civilian volunteers on a daily basis to ensure the project runs smoothly. White has volunteered with this organization twice now and looks forward to coming back in the future.
“I thought it was one of the best community service volunteer programs that I’ve been a part of,” said White. “I think it’s a worthwhile event.”
The project works with the Veterans Village of San Diego and Overcoming Adversity and Stress Injury Support to provide animal-assisted therapy to service members.
“Animals don’t judge or talk, they’re just here,” said White. “I think it might help service men and women relax and feel at ease not having to worry about being judged or what other people might think because they’re animals.”