ESCONDIDO — Hidden beyond dirt roads, dusted pathways and jagged valleys lies a rare herd of Polish Arabian horses who have gone from neglect to nobility.
More than a decade ago, the herd was rescued from Sacramento by Cynthia and Tony Royal, who eventually brought the horses to Rancho Santa Fe.
After a full recovery, the Royals founded the Pegasus Rising Project later that fall, providing equine therapy to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and post-traumatic brain injury.
Gary Adler, resident of Carlsbad resident and Pegasus Rising’s president and CEO, joined the project in June 2009.
“The horses were still in emaciated conditions when I got there,” Adler said. “I came on board because I was looking for a way to give back to the community. I retired early and felt I needed a purpose. The biggest lesson I’ve learned from these horses is that we’ve repurposed them.”
Adler, a private attorney for 20 years in Los Angeles, began riding horses at age 7 and developed an early appreciation for animal-human communication.
Adler helped bring the healing power of horses to the Veterans Village of San Diego, which established the four-week Equine Assisted Experiential Health Therapy program as a part its larger rehabilitation efforts for U.S. military personnel and their families.
Once a week, veterans are put through a series of progressive challenges, learning how to establish themselves as a leader through various training exercises and master basic horsemanship skills.
“A lot of service members give up,” Adler said. “They think that they’re incapable of loving anymore or being loved. They have moral guilt and survivors’ guilt. Because of human to human trauma there’s no trust, so how do we get them (veterans) to start trusting again?
They second guess everything about their own thoughts and feelings they trust nothing around them. That is called existing … that’s not really living when you don’t trust anything around you.”
But there is bond of empathy between the horses and veterans that allow for a unique healing.
According to Adler, both horses and victims of trauma tend to be hyper-vigilant, triggered by smells, sounds and sudden movements, shared characteristics that help create a natural connection.
Pegasus Rising is a volunteer-based organization and currently cares for 11 horses.
“Everybody is healing at their own pace,” volunteer Mindy Carbett said. “These horses have been through some bad stuff and they (veterans and horses) really join up in that beautiful silent language of body language and expression.”
The Pegasus Rising Program is currently looking for volunteers to help out at its ranch in the Lake Wohlford area of Escondido.
To learn more about volunteering, donating, or the project itself visit http://pegasusrising.org .