The Cowboy Cure

Horses help military men and women get back in the fight.
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Horses help military men and women get back in the fight.
Credit: Flyin BP Photography Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program warriors branding at Searle Longhorn Ranch in Colorado.

Credit: Flyin BP Photography Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program warriors branding at Searle Longhorn Ranch in Colorado.

Col. John Mayer is a Marine. And though now retired, as the “Semper Fidelis” motto suggests, he always will be. But it was during his two combat tours in Iraq—for which he was awarded a Purple Heart, two Bronze Stars with a Valor Device, and a Combat Action Ribbon—that Mayer developed his unwavering fidelity to his fellow warriors. So when selected by the Commandant of the Marine Corps to serve as the Commanding Officer of the Wounded Warrior Regiment from 2010 to 2012, Mayer accepted with honor and purpose and played a vital role in creating the Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program.

Created in partnership with the Semper Fi Fund, which offers its services to all post-9/11, wounded, ill, and injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces, the Jinx McCain program—named in honor of a four-time, Purple Heart-awarded Marine colonel who used to guide Vietnam-era veterans on trail rides at Camp Pendleton—offers therapy by getting servicemen and women horseback.

While originally approaching the program—of which he is now Foreman—with conventional equine therapy in mind, it became clear to Mayer that creating real challenges for the participants was paramount to their success. 

“You’ve got to understand, our Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen that joined the service during a time of war, they volunteered knowing they were going to war. You’ve got a special breed of people here that really need a greater challenge.”

What resulted is a program that now offers six events each year in which participants may work a branding, compete in a cutting classic, or move 500 head of cattle while camping with the herd for five days.

The key to making the program work is finding industry horsemen and women who are willing to share their horses and ranches. Mayer describes the scenario as win-win. He’s seen veterans of war in the prime of their lives, struggling to combat demons and injuries, break out of their shells and reengage during these events. Mayer has also seen the ranchers and professionals receive the ultimate reward of witnessing those breakthroughs.

Col. Mayer’s ultimate goal is to help wounded warriors find their purpose in life, to help fight high veteran suicide and unemployment rates. He is hopeful for three things: to assist participants in staying horseback after the events through association partnerships; to create events for family members of the warriors, as they often become the caretakers and are dealing with new challenges of their own; and to create agricultural career opportunities through internships for the veterans.

Col. Mayer welcomes the chance to speak to anyone who may be able to assist in the program’s continuation and development, and can be reached at, 830-992-9581.

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Col. Mayer dreams of starting a self-sustaining cattle ranch in the West for wounded warriors and veterans. Veterans would intern at the ranch learning by application the skills needed to have successful careers in the agricultural industry, to include starting ranches and farms of their own.

“This warrior ranch would be a place to overcome their demons and regain their purpose in life. All I need is a chunk of land--the more rugged the better, as it builds character— quality breeding stock and ranch horses, and a campfire. Campfires have a magic that brings out their stories, helps discover the truth, and hopefully sets them free.”