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Pegasus Rising connects horses, heroes

It’s something on four legs that aids our military personnel in getting back on their own two feet.

“Horses helping heroes,” said Sibel Aydemir, a Naval reservist. “That’s what is so magical about these animals.”

It’s no hocus-pocus on what will go on at the 12th Holes For Heroes Golf Tournament. The annual event at the Lomas Santa Fe Country Club on Sept. 14 will bring together caring people raising dough for our military personnel.

Among the benefactors are the Pegasus Rising Project, which matches horses and humans and then steps away and let’s nature take its course. Actually there’s more to it than that, but the connection between the two is unmistakable.

The Pegasus Rising Project steers its rescued herd toward warriors returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or any other trauma issues. The pairing works in a way that Aydemir, who has done two tours in Afghanistan, never thought possible.

“It’s so hard to explain how these animals can sense that you have been through something,” said Aydemir, a hospital corpsman chief petty officer. “And they really are able to connect with you.”

Aydemir got hooked without growing up around hoofs. She went on a wounded warrior retreat back east years ago and got attached to a horse.

Aydemir fell in love with her horse and was never able to shake that feeling.

Fast-forward to Aydemir being stationed at Coronado. After being here about six months she wondered about equine-based therapeutic services. A couple taps on the keyboard led her to the Pegasus Rising Project and Gary Adler of Carlsbad.

Adler is the CEO of the all-volunteer group and a miracle worker at that. Through his energy and numerous other volunteers’, they help service veterans at the Camp Pendleton’s Wounded Warrior Battalion-West, Naval Medical Point Loma’s OASIS residential treatment program for active duty service members and veterans of all eras at the Veterans Village of San Diego.

“Horses are hyper-vigilant and have the same triggers of smell, sound and movement as people exposed to trauma, whether or not diagnosed with PTSD,” Adler said. “I like to think of these similarities as empathetic connectors.”

Once Aydemir clicked with the Pegasus Rising Project she fell head over heels all over again. She started petting a horse named Jasmine and got that same old feeling. It’s the one that gives her hope, as the animal needs the human or is it the human that needs the animal?

“You have to be vulnerable and exposed with these animals,” she said.

Not only did Aydemir get the help she wanted, she wanted to help others. She inquired about volunteering with the herd at the Escondido Equestrian Center for Natural Horsemanship. Before she knew it she was cleaning stalls, while clearing her head.

“You’re just really able to connect with the horses,” she said. “They are going fight or flight, like combat veterans. They are always looking around, almost as if they could be ambushed at any time. There is that commonality between the human and horse.”

So giddy-up to the Holes For Heroes golf tournament and know that the Pegasus Rising Project isn’t the only one to benefit. The event’s funds will also aid, among others, the USMC Camp Pendleton YMCA, Freedom Dogs, Honor Flight and the Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego County program which mentors military children.

When the Pegasus Rising Project and the military personnel combine it produces the kind of horse play that not even a drill sergeant could get mad about.

“I can say 100 percent,” Aydemir said, “that it has helped me.”