Man leaning on fence with horse

Horses of Warriors
Story 152

By Jaquelyn Lugg
Service member in desert

Like so many veterans, Jamie Franklin of Sonora, Calif., returned from war carrying a heavy burden.

Jamie served for 12 years in the U.S. Army, deployed in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, as well as Operation Garden Plot in Los Angeles during the riots of 1992. After returning home, Jamie found himself struggling with survivor's guilt and going through a divorce. He remembers severe nightmares, dozens of medications, and turning to alcohol to cope. In 2015, he attempted suicide twice.

After the second attempt, a concerned neighbor reached out to Jamie and suggested he rediscover things he was passionate about.

As a child, Jamie's family had horses, and he had participated in roping competitions — but he hadn't connected with horses in some time. His neighbor suggested visiting a local equine rescue group.

A horse named Ricochet finally got Jamie off the couch. After adopting Ricochet, Jamie found a sense of purpose in the many hours he spent each day fencing, feeding and saddle-training his new companion.

"These horses saved my life, and at least 14 others."
Man leaning on fence with horse

Not long after Ricochet entered his life, Jamie took a fellow veteran on a trail ride at Kennedy Meadows Pack Station near Sonora Pass. At one point, they stopped on the trail to admire the view, and after a few moments of silence, the man admitted to Jamie that he, too, had been contemplating suicide. "I was thinking about ending it when I met you," Jamie remembers him saying, "but your horse talked me out of it."

On that ride, the idea for Horses of Warriors was born.  

The nonprofit formally opened in March of 2018 and offers equine therapy for veterans, first responders, medical professionals and their immediate family members, completely free of charge. The 120-acre ranch on Seco Street in Jamestown is home to 21 horses and includes miles of trails, an arena and an event space. The land is owned by Sam Khacho of Oakdale, Calif., a Syrian immigrant who offered his property at no cost to be used for the cause of helping veterans.

Horses for Warriors donation check

Since Horses of Warriors opened, it has served over 200 members of the surrounding community. Funding comes exclusively from sponsors, donations, and — more often than not — Jamie's own pocket.

This summer, Adventist Health Sonora granted a $10,000 sponsorship toward the operations of Horses of Warriors. Every year, Adventist Health Sonora distributes over $150,000 from its operating budget to local nonprofit organizations. So far, the sponsorship has covered months of feed and essential care for the horses. After all, Jamie says, they’re what it's all about.

"These horses saved my life, and at least 14 others," says Jamie. "I'm just a gatekeeper here, sharing the horses, just like the property owner is sharing his land and the volunteers and horse wranglers are sharing. But the horses are the real stars.”