Fundraiser builds relationships with vets and horses

RANCHO SANTA FE — There are few charitable organizations that have such dedicated volunteers as Pegasus Rising, especially considering what they do when they show up for duty.
“I muck and feed,” said Paula Hegedus who was attending a fundraiser for the cause Oct. 1 in the barn at the Valenti Ranch in Rancho Santa Fe. “I interact with the horses, give them human contact and brush them.”
About 80 people turned out for the event. They sipped wine, nibbled appetizers and bid on silent auction items while the horses milled around outside in their corral on a beautiful sunny afternoon.
The mission of the organization is to help veterans, returning from the war, to reintegrate into civilian life. The troops may suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or have suffered a brain injury. They come to the ranch just to be with the horses, a very calming influence.
“I think it is a very good cause,” Janeane Manker said. “I grew up on a cattle ranch with horses in Northern California. I had my own horse when I was 6 or 7.”
The herd of 20 horses was rescued from a ranch in Sacramento about three years ago when the family that owned them could no longer care for them.
Gary Adler, now president and CEO, agreed to run the program and with help from former Marine Carla J. McGirr, a worker at Veteran’s Village at the time, got the ball rolling by putting Adler in touch with the proper authorities.
All the volunteers marvel at how the horses and veterans relate to each other.
“The horses seemed very sensitive to people’s feelings and emotions,” said Hegedus, who has been a volunteer for two years. “They are very in tune with injury and seem to know when someone is suffering.”
Heidi Lerner runs a brain injury support group and has written a book titled “Gray Matters.”
She brings some of her clients to the ranch to be near the horses, to pet them, comb them or even put on a harness.
“It that kind of interaction that is so relaxing for someone with a brain injury,” she said.
Volunteer Diana Remer, who has been working at the ranch for about a year, said she got involved because she loves animals, especially horses.
“When I learned they were working with returning vets from the war, I was really interested,” she said. “It is a calm, peaceful atmosphere out here. The vets with PTSD can come and be in an unthreatening atmosphere.”
And it’s good for her, as well.
“No matter how bad a day you had, you come up that driveway. It’s so peaceful and the horses are happy to see you,” Remer said.
Kerry and Carol Williams, who were guests at the event, said they heard about the organization and came to see what it was all about.
“We love horses and we are interested in helping in some way,” Kerry said.
Volunteer Grace Kalina said her shift of mucking and feeding is usually on Sunday.
“This is like my church,” she said. “It’s so peaceful.”
To learn more about Pegasus Rising, visit


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