A Note from Karen: Not Just Horsin’ Around in Wyoming

I just returned from one of the most amazing trips…tired, sunburned, dusty, sore in almost every part of the body and wanting to go straight back up the mountain and do it all over again. “Breathtaking” and “Surreal” are the only words that come closest to describing the days we just spent on the backs of horses, driving cattle up the Big Horn Mountains of Montana and Wyoming.

This was a real cattle drive in the wilderness – no electricity, no running water, no safety of cover – living amongst the stars and mountain ranges for an exciting week of wild west adventure!

The Semper Fi Fund’s Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program took 15 service members, from all military branches, with all different types of injuries, to the Double Rafter Cattle Ranch. Our days started before the sun was up (3:30 the first morning!). After a hearty chuck wagon breakfast, we packed our saddle bags with our lunches and enough water for the day. My horse, Tiger Lily, and I got to see, first-hand, the bonding and team work that is allowed to take place in the saddle while moving cattle up a range.

This was not an event for the faint of heart. From day one, we pushed cows up and down mountains, through streams, and across rocky cliffs. To move hundreds of cattle (bulls, mammas, babies, teenagers) takes a team, and what a team our service members formed into throughout the week!

There was magic in the mountains, the cowboys, and the challenges of the wilderness. The delicious home-cooked chuck wagon meal (steak, homemade mashed potatoes, and cobbler) and campfire were well deserved at the end of a 10-hour day in the saddle. We were covered in the Chaplain’s prayers at the beginning of every day and before meals. The warm hospitality we received from the owners of the ranch, Dana and Alice, and their entire crew, was extraordinary. Each ranch hand guided and mentored us along the trail. Everyone treated us like family and was a huge part of the entire experience. The respect and love our Semper Fi Fund staff had for each rider made me so very proud. The courage, collaborative spirit, positive ‘can do’ attitude, and respect for fellow riders, beast, and terrain were right out of the best John Wayne westerns.


The most important lesson from this trip was that this magic we experienced on the cattle drive has a special formula – building confidence and bringing them together as a team to complete a demanding task that has a meaningful purpose.

And the magic works – rider Michael is committed to using his medical skills learned in the military to become an outdoor activity medic; rider Robbie has decided to use his expertise in testing metal welds to pursue bladesmithing; rider Harold wants to pursue his passion for fine wood working; rider Gordon wants to take his hobby of hand-crafting fine bird houses out of reclaimed lumber to the business level; and rider Chad wants to apply his welding expertise into making blacksmith products for high-end houses being built in his area of Colorado. I’m proud of how our programs compliment each other (Casework, Team Semper Fi, Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program, and Apprenticeship) and provide the pathway for our members to succeed in life.

I am in awe of the men and women we are blessed to know because of the Semper Fi Fund. It was an honor and privilege to ride with these warriors. The healing and transformation from day one reaches beyond description of words. Whether it was sleeping out under the stars or taking a dip in a 30-degree river to cool off the sore muscles – these were moments everyone on this trip, including me, will never forget for as long as they live. I do believe this is one of the most powerful wellness treatments for body, mind, and spirit. The mountains, cows, and horses are the best medicine I have seen in a long time for broken hearts, spirits, and psyche. As a three-decade nurse, this is at the top of my list for the best Holistic Medicine prescription.


All of my best,