Donation helps Pegasus Rising upgrade Rancho Santa Fe ranch

By Karen Billing

Rancho Santa Fe’s Pegasus Rising recently received a $10,000 donation from the Home Depot Foundation, which will allow for much-needed upgrades and repairs around the Valenti Ranch the organization calls home.

On Friday, April 6, about 35 volunteers from the Vista Home Depot store visited the ranch to begin work on the upgrades — they wanted to be involved in the planning and implementation of the improvements, not just hand over a gift card.

Pegasus Rising, an equine therapy group, serves predominately military personnel, many who have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

“These are people who witness and deal with a lot of trauma and are impacted by it,” said Gary Adler, president and CEO of Pegasus Rising. “Our mission is to partner humans and horses for healing.”

Not only are the humans involved in the program healing, but the horses are too. The herd of 26 horses was rescued from a farm that could no longer care for them.

Pegasus Riding rescued and cared for the horses and their interaction with the serviceman is a “symbiotic relationship.” The horses’ own traumatic history allows them to be empathetic and “mirror the anxieties exhibited by persons who have been exposed to violence.”

The organization, founded by Cynthia and Tony Royal, was originally located in the Sacramento area in 2008, then moved to Stockton before eventually landing in Rancho Santa Fe in 2009. Irene Valenti generously donate the Valenti Ranch free of charge.

Adler became president and CEO of Pegasus Rising in June of 2009. He had always loved horses, having ridden since he was 7, and the rescue element of the organization appealed to him. From a business standpoint, he also knew he could help make it work.

There are no charges for the organization’s services and it runs entirely on donations.

“Every dollar we raise goes to the herd,” Adler said.

Equine-assisted experiential health therapy programs are held through weekly group sessions with the Veterans Village of San Diego, as well as the organization’s New Resolve program in Escondido, which provides transitional housing and therapy for homeless veterans.

Pegasus Rising also works with the Navy’s OASIS group (Overcoming Adversity and Stress Injury Support) for returning and active duty service members diagnosed with combat- related PTSD.

In addition to the group programs, Pegasus Rising also provides couples and family-based sessions for individuals who are re-adjusting to civilian life.

Adler said sometimes returning servicemen and women don’t want to be touched or loved, have moral guilt and some feel survivor’s guilt. Instead of masking their pain with drugs, alcohol or, in some cases turning to suicide, servicemen and women find that the horses provide a nonjudgemental form of touch and love.

“Sometimes it helps, putting their hands on the horses, connecting and bonding with the animal,” Adler said. “The animals are wonderful. They don’t judge them and for the person to feel connected with another living thing helps them. It can help them try again and trust again with humans.”

Adler said the biggest hurdle they faced was getting the military to try the therapy. But now that they have and found successes, they get direct requests from servicemen/women and have established a good partnership with the local groups, such as OASIS.

About 20 to 30 people a week are now working with the horses.

Adler said they are grateful for Home Depot’s materials grant, but still need donations to help maintain the herd. To donate, visit