SAN MARCOS, Calif. - There is nothing like it in Southern California right now: Prized horses are being rescued and used to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The riding ring is a safe place for Marine Cole Smith and a horse called Gerry.
Gerry was once a racing thoroughbred but when his time on the track was up, he had nowhere to go. That is when San Marcos-based Rising Phoenix stepped in and rescued him. Now, Gerry's role is to help veterans like Smith who have PTSD.
"From somebody who was regularly suicidal like myself to not wanting to kill myself anymore … that's a huge thing," said Smith.
Smith was a combat engineer in Afghanistan and an IED explosion fractured his hips and caused traumatic brain injury. He tried six other methods of therapy and each proved unsuccessful in his recovery.
After just a few months there, he feels his life has purpose again.
"Which is another big deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, you come back from combat and you feel you don't have a purpose anymore," said Smith.
All rescued horses are trained by Randy Abbott. He served with the First Recon Battalion Sniper Platoon and also has PTSD.
"That veteran now has unconditional love, and he realizes he's worth loving again," said Abbott.
It costs about $27,000 to fund one horse for 18 months so that a veteran can ride it.
The ranch opened last May but costs are adding up.
"Horse need hay, they need grain, they need shoes, they need monthly veterinary care, they need training," said Sara Bann, who is with Rising Phoenix.
The money to keep the place going is running out, so the group has started an online fundraising drive hoping to continue their work and changing lives.
"My moods have changed," said Smith. "I've been more positive about everything."