December 2018 - Horses – The Ultimate Healers


Cornerstone Therapeutic Riding Center’s Operation Saddle Up Changes People’s Lives

Mike, a retired Army Major and Green Beret, had his life drastically change when he was injured while saving a fellow soldier during a parachute training exercise. His chute tangled during the rescue which caused him to fall 400 feet to what should have been his death. A son of a minister, he asked God to save him and miraculously he survived.

Catastrophically injured, he was “given a mountain of prescription drugs” which led to addiction. When his dad confronted him about his addiction, which was causing anger, depression, and hopelessness, Mike knew he needed to get help. A doctor referred him to Operation Saddle Up, a project of Cornerstone Therapeutic Riding Center in San Diego County’s Ramona, where his road to recovery really began.

At first, Mike was very shut down and untrusting of his situation and his environment. But quickly, working with horses and learning how to ride, turned Mike’s life around. “I knew that I always loved horses but I really had no idea how much I would be affected by them and how they would heal me in such a tremendous way.  The first time I went to Cornerstone I was met by two of the most giving people, who took me and my family in with no pressure or expectations and they met me where I was at the time, teaching me horsemanship and allowing me to connect with the horses.

pivotal moment for me was the day the horse I was working with showed me pure trust,” Mike continued. “It changed my life and the way I was thinking. It was the fundamental change I needed to break me out of the lie that I would never be healed.  It helped to begin moving my life forward with new purpose.

“After my parachuting accident my outlook on life, and what I was able to achieve as a soldier, and as a man, was almost completely diminished.  Anger and depression gripped my soul and caused me to pull away from the people I loved the most. When darkness seemed to be all that there was, my interaction with the horses infused light and hope into my life and my future. The joy and purpose I felt riding and working with the horses helped reopen my heart to feeling love and joy once again.”

Mike and his family relocated to Virginia two years ago.  They remain extremely close to their “Cornerstone family” and are doing incredible things in Virginia. Their experience at Cornerstone was so powerful it inspired them to start an equine and canine therapy program in Virginia.  Cornerstone continues to offer support and help as they are building their programs and services.

Judy Beckett, Cornerstone’s Executive Director, says, “It’s incredibly inspiring to see Mike and his family thriving and having such great success in their new lives.”  

A Decade of Remarkable Work

Cornerstone has been providing equine-assisted therapy to wounded, ill and recovering service member and veterans since 2008 and is the first program in San Diego to offer programs and services to the military.  Cornerstone has worked with multiple departments at Naval Medical Center San Diego including their C5 unit, Wounded, Ill and Injured department, their psychiatric medical hold unit, and their psychiatrists who specialize in PTSD, in addition to working with 32nd Street Naval Station.

Cornerstone works with many physical injuries including traumatic brain injuries, loss of limbs, broken bones, spinal cord injuries, surgical recovery and many other war related injuries.

Regardless of the physical injuries, what the horses are really healing, are the emotional and mental health injuries; anxiety, fear, depression, stress, hyper-vigilance, anger, social isolation, survivor’s guilt, addictions, and suicidal ideation…all components of PTSD.  And, this is where the horses play such an extraordinary role in changing and saving lives. Cornerstone’s results are impressive:  94% decrease in depression, 91% decrease in anxiety and hyper-vigilance, and 87% improvement in social interactions with family, peers and co-workers. The most impressive a 92% decrease in suicidal ideations and a 94% increase in restored hope. Twenty-two veterans are lost every day to suicide…it’s a sobering number.  Hope is the key to changing and significantly lowering that number.

Cornerstone has served over 900 men and women in the Unites States Armed Forces and has received Congressional recognition for their work, as well as being recognized by the Armed Services YMCA for their programs and services.  Cornerstone was voted Non-Profit of the year by the Ramona Chamber of Commerce and presented on two panels at an international conference focusing on equine therapy for vets. Cornerstone has a 10-year history of successfully providing exceptional and innovative programs that enable veterans to heal body, mind, and spirit in a non-clinical, non-pharmaceutical, non-psychiatric environment.

All programs and service are provided to the service members 100% free of charge. But the programs and horses are costly. Programs are funded through private donations, grants, corporate giving, and fundraising events.

During this season of giving, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to Cornerstone to support the men and women have who have sacrificed and served our great nation, and protected our liberty and our freedom.

To donate go to: send a check to: Cornerstone Therapeutic Riding Center, 25602 Tin Cup Drive, Ramona, CA 92065


“I felt as though I had lost my humanity and the horses have allowed me to regain my faith in people” – U.S.  Navy Chief
I didn’t know that there was a way for me to heal my severe anxiety.  The experience with the horses has been life changing” – U.S. Navy Commander
“This program literally saved my life and I don’t know where I would be otherwise” – U.S. Army Staff Sergeant
“I smiled for the first time in 2 years” – U.S. Marine
“I found my happy place again, being back in the saddle brought back memories of when I was really happy.  I will come away from this a better husband, a better father, a better leader and a better man” – U.S. Army Staff Sargent
“Cornerstone has given me hope for my future” – U.S. Navy Corpsman
“The horses give me peace in my panicked and assaulted world” – U.S. Navy Commander