Building a relationship with one of these powerful animals is an intensely uplifting and empowering experience for both children and adults.
We hope you find inspiration and enjoyment from reading the excerpts below, sent in from people who have experienced a positive difference in their life or that of their child. These stories are what keep us diligently working to serve others.
“I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”
— Anne Frank
Participants in Officers Spouses Club – Family Respite April 2017
When we returned to 29 I could not get to Katie May fast enough to thank her for finding Horse of the Sun! Thank you for your persistence and determination in getting all of the pictures to us. We all loved them! More importantly, thank you for our Respite Weekend! Finding the right words to express our gratitude for our family weekend away has had me stumped. I cannot pick what one thing was my favorite part. It was so nice to have the chance to be away, unplugged from work phones and removed enough away from the base that the ‘Marine’ in Tim melted into ‘having fun’ Tim. (I know he can smile, but even the pictures captured him smiling most of the day!) Watching Madison work through her fears and find confidence, in riding and in herself, gave me relief and hope that she will survive our upcoming move to a new place and her transition into junior. high. Seeing JT’s aim with a bow and his comfort with the horses has me more excited to see what skills and talent will grow out of that little boy. Observing Arya’s love for animals still pouring out of her while finally being able to stand next the animals with no fears or hesitation had me awe struck. And Connor, although he missed out on the experience, was genuinely excited to hear our stories and see the pictures. In fact, he wears the hat you sent home for him almost everyday. For myself, I really appreciated being able to actively participate along side the kids instead of hanging back and entertaining the kids not involved with the present activity.
Both Tim and I were impressed with the awareness through movement exercises. With the frequent moving around in our military lives I have found that we will get involved with the first offering of any particular activity, our children want, that we can find. Especially, if the group will be willing to take you in knowing you are a short-timing military family. After experiencing the awareness exercises I will be able to be more selective on what I am looking for in a riding instructor when we get to our new duty station. And seeing first hand how effective it was for the horse and rider, I will be more patient finding the right trainer for Madison and hopefully myself. Suzi, I have told several people about the ‘turning on a bar stool’ to communicate with the horse. I absolutely loved how that clicked with my muscles, I was able to apply it and then to have it understood by the horse.
Thank you for allowing an Officers family this opportunity. There are other types of family experiences available to military families, but few are open to Officers and their families. What your organization is providing from respite to development of new skills all while giving back to those that have given in another capacity is a gift of love for others. Love that our family definitely felt and will carry with us forward in our lives.
Lorie Van Tilburg, Managing Director, for Southern Caregiver Resource Center
As the Founder of Southern Caregiver Resource Center, 30 years ago, I have done many events for caregivers. The event SCRC’s Operation Family Caregiver hosted, along with Yellow Ribbon Fund and Blue Star Families, at Horse of the Sun Ranch on June 3rd was top notch! Not only did we have fun, friendship and great food, but through the expert leadership provided by Suzi Zielinski and Ken Callaway, we not only learned a lot about horses, but a lot about ourselves and how we think as well. Suzi and Ken led us through several activities that included movement exercises to open our minds and bodies, games with horses to develop a sense of teamwork, creativity and communication, archery and an art project with horse shoes that each caregiver got to take home as a reminder of their day at the Ranch. What made the day so enriching was each activity had meaning that helped us all see the importance of asking for help, the need to reach-out, the importance of teamwork, plus how to use what we are given to solve a problem. Important messages for all of us, and especially caregivers, as we move through various challenges in life. We learned these lessons and gained new skills as we worked and tried to communicate with the horses. Of course, Suzi was ever so helpful in creating the analogy for us.
Sixteen military and veteran caregivers attended the day and their feedback was unanimously positive. Kudos to Jerry, the owner of the Ranch for his vision and generosity and to Suzi and Ken, our team leaders for the day, for their commitment and passion to help and support our military and veteran community. Their warmth and knowledge was appreciated by all. Plus, a big thanks to rest of the Horse of the Sun staff that helped make the day a success and to the great group of volunteers who made fabulous barbecued chicken and steak with all the trimmings for lunch!
As we parted, we didn’t say goodbye, but rather, see ya later, as we hope to have another retreat soon.
With great appreciation and admiration from all of us at Southern Caregiver Resource Center, Yellow Ribbon Fund and Blue Star Families. Thank you again!
Lorie Van Tilburg
Participant in Semper Fi Foundation’s Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program
“I just wanted to send you this update. I’ve been working with the horse, that last time I was at the clinic I told you wouldn’t let me pick up his back feet without him trying to kick me. Couldn’t drag anything without him freaking out and swinging the rope over his head made him nervous.
Well I should have recorded and sent you a video because since you’ve taken the time to work with me, and teach me how to overcome these obstacles, I’m now able to pick up all four of his feet with little effort. I can swing a rope all around him while trotting around catching the dummy.
Also today we pulled a 6x6x12 log. I did the exact progression you told me to do and we got it all done today. He’s still a little nervous about dragging the log behind him but I’m pushing him to try, and I’m not letting him get to the point of falling apart. I’ve been building at his speed to get solid and than reward him. It’s been a great time working with this horse and I’ve learned so much. I just wanted to say thank you so much for teaching me and taking the time to make me a better horsemen. It means a lot to me.”
The May Family from 29 Palms – Officers Spouses Club
Our family of seven (kids ages 13, 10, 7, 4 and 2) had an INCREDIBLE weekend at Horse of the Sun Ranch! We were the pilot program for military families needing a little respite:) My husband came home from Iraq and a few weeks later we were relaxing at Horse of the Sun!!!! We did everything from basic horse care, riding, crafting, body awareness class, archery, hiking, and my husband and oldest child even did some cattle driving and roping!!!!! Horse of the Sun Ranch is blessed with a highly talented staff that made our stay an incredible bonding experience for the whole family. We are forever grateful for them taking a chance on us and hope that we have paved the way for other military families to enjoy the Horse of the Sun experience!!!!!
Carre St. Andre from San Diego – Team Red White and Blue
“Horse of the Sun Ranch offers veterans events with a twist. It’s more than playing with horses, being entertained, then going home with a fond memory. It’s more than camaraderie with other vets and being inspired to make positive changes in our lives. It’s the tip of the iceberg of possibilities. Working with horses in this way teaches us about ourselves: our strengths and weaknesses, our sincerity and our disconnectedness, our tendency to push when we feel frustrated and pull when we feel ineffective. The horses show us exactly where we stand. Their feedback is honest and intuitive – they don’t respond favorably until we find that sweet spot, where we’re communicating on a universal level. We learn to lead without forcing solutions. These are important skills when transitioning to civilian life, where dealing with challenges has different rules of engagement. Bob and Suzi bring a lifetime of dedication and love of their craft. Betty’s support leaves me feeling that I’ve been invited into a family home. I’m excited to bring fellow vets to the table!”
Endorsement from Buck Brannaman
Congratulations on the work that you and the rest of the staff at Horse of the Sun Ranch are doing for our military families and underserved youth! It is heart warming to know that you are passing along horsemanship and ranch roping skills to such a deserving bunch and gratifying to know that my teachings have influenced yours. Best wishes for continued success!
Note: This photo was taken at the 2016 Legacy of Legends and includes Buck (center) with several of the participants in Semper Fi’s Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program along with John Mayer, Foreman of the JMHP.
For more about about this amazing horseman check out the documentary Buck. We believe you will find it nothing short of fascinating.
Endorsement from Wendy Murdoch
Wendy Murdoch, MS
Founder of the Murdoch Method and
Originator of the SURE FOOT
Equine Stability Program
I was introduced to Horse of the Sun Ranch by long time friends Bob King and Suzi Zielinski and recently had the opportunity to visit them. Working with some of their military veteran clients was such a moving experience that I not only wholeheartedly endorse their organization, but I have also joined their organization as an Honorary Board Member!
Their knowledgeable staff and excellent facility allows their nonprofit partners and the individuals they together serve to connect with the healing power of horses, enriching the lives of all concerned.
Wounded Heroes of America Family Ranch Day
This was our second annual trip to Horse of the Sun Ranch. We are convinced that there are people and organizations within in our communities that absolutely love our veterans- They have the resources and the wiliness to help, and when they get the opportunity they bend over backwards show their appreciation to our vets for their sacrifice and service- Particularly our combat wounded.
Jerry Hall, Martha Baker, and the whole team of Horse of the Sun Ranch volunteers, made it possible for over 90 of our vets and families to spend the day in the outdoors, shooting arrows, riding horses, throwing horse shoes, spinning ropes, hiking and just hanging out with great people who really care. We strongly believe in this concept of collaboration with others to improve the lives of or vets. The resources we need are in the community. Finding friends there is the key and we’ve been blessed to have made friends like Jerry and Martha and everyone connected with Horse of the Sun Ranch- Thank you for a great day— Feb 13th 2016. We look forward to returning soon.
Mike Talleda, President Wounded Heroes of America
Semper Fi Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program
Horse of the Sun Ranch Fulfills Monthly Cowboy Academies for Wounded Warriors.
I’m very much looking forward to 2016 and the many opportunities developing for our warriors. I consider Horse of the Sun Ranch and all it offers a true divine blessing and am so thankful for your vision and determination to make the cowboy academy a reality.
John Mayer, Foreman Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program, Semper Fi Fund
YMCA Youth & Family Services Kinship Program
Horse of the Sun Fulfilled Two Ranch Adventure Days for Kinship Families in 2015.
“Horse of the Sun Ranch is one of my favorite outings that my granddaughter and I have gone on with the YMCA Kinship group. It is a relaxing, fun environment. It was a great time with lots to do andgreat company around us. We enjoyed the hiking, pony rides, archery, planting, crafts, roping and the yummy food. The staff there is very friendly and very hands on with the children and the adults. We can’t wait to go again!!!
Dana Mineado, Caregiver
Horse of the Sun Ranch hosted the YMCA Kinship 2015 Family Day events. From the time you enter the ranch until the time you leave, you feel a true sense of comradery, commitment and passion from the entire staff and volunteers. The spirit and values of the ranch are infectious. Families were able to relax in the serene environment and enjoy, for the first time for some, archery, pony rides and hikes. It was a wonderful experience and met our objective to give families the opportunity to connect, bond and have fun.
YMCA Kinship Staff
Horse of the Sun Fulfilled a “Life Wish” for Gina, a mother with Stage 4 cancer, and her extended family.
“Words can not fully express the blessing we experienced and came away with on Saturday, May 24, 2014. We will forever carry in our hearts the image of Joe Cuffaro “the man with the big heart”, Jerry Hall “the gentle man”, and Alex “the cow girl with so much love”. You all treated us like family!
Frank Molina, Gina’s brother
Horse of the Sun Ranch has hosted several events for active duty and veteran service men and women through our partner, Team Red, White, Blue
“I recently experienced a day at Horse of the Sun Ranch in Pine Valley. I spent the day learning the basics of riding while getting to know other Veterans. As a wounded warrior myself, spending a day “away from the real world” helped remind me what life is all about. The staff and folks at the ranch were very knowledgeable and the horses were well trained. It was a top notch facility and everyone cared for the people and animals at the facility. It was truly a memorable day and great escape from the hustle and bustle. Thanks to Horse of the Sun for opening up their gates and for being so warm and welcoming to the Veterans in need of a little TLC.”
SGT Cogen Nelson, USMC, Retired
“Visiting the Horse of the Sun ranch was truly an amazing experience. Enjoying the wonderful friendly staff showing us what day to day life on the ranch is like for them. From riding horses around the barn to walking along horse trails was a very relaxing experiences. The Horse of the Sun Ranch was not only a new experience for me but as well for my service dogs, as they got to enjoy being around the horses and the open ranch life. Truly a great learning experience being on the ranch as I learned how to introduce myself to horses, as well ride them properly. I can’t wait to go back to Horse of the Sun Ranch to learn more from the very educated staff and get to learn more of the day to day life on the ranch.”
Kiante Storey, Wounded Veteran
Summer Day Camp
A comment from Summer Day Camp
We had a wonderful time at Horse of the Sun Ranch. I say we because the experience that the youth had brought so much joy to me each day.
Overall the week was awesome. The youth were waiting eagerly each day as the van pulled up to bring them to Pine Valley. When we first arrived at the Horse of the Sun Ranch the whole staff was out there to welcome us. The communication was excellent. Everyone gave the youth, and myself their full attention. Each day the youth came to the camp, everything ran like clockwork. The schedule is down to a science. There was enough time allotted for each activity. At the end of the day, during the art projects, the youth were winding down and never wanted to leave. They would do it all over again.
Officer Carlos Amezcua came by and took a quick tour and he loved it. Our Sgt. Jeff Pace came out as well and just called it serenity. We would be honored to come back any time. We would definitely recommend your program to other youths in need.
Thank you for a wonderful experience!!!
Portia M. Dawson, StarPal Director of Program Partnerships
Thank You from a Veteran
Dear Jerold Hall and Horse of the Sun Ranch,
My name is Jason Ackley and I’m the very fortunate recipient of your very nice saddle. I want to stress that I’m very grateful for your donation and have already put it to use. My horse is a nice Quarter Horse. I didn’t grow up on a farm and only ever rode a horse once or twice prior to this. I was deployed in Afghanistan over three tours and almost met my maker a couple of times. After my discharge from the military I really found it hard to cope with PTSD and spent many nights laying awake thinking that life didn’t matter anymore. My wife’s mother rides horses and I said I would like to ride with them. After sitting on her horse I found my peace that I had been missing in my life. Being on and around horses brings a calm over me that I can’t explain. My goal is to either do some summer work on some ranches, become a horse trainer or farrier. Being a disabled vet, it’s good to know that people still care about helping us out. I would like again to thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Jason Ackley, Wounded Veteran