What is the Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program?

The Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program provides active duty and veteran wounded, ill, or injured service members with horsemanship instruction and riding experience through a series of clinics and ranch-related activities. We focus on teaching and applying through practical application traditional cowboy skills that challenge and enhance our riders horsemanship. We provide horsemanship opportunities for every participant from beginner with no riding experience to advanced riders looking for ways to expand their horsemanship skills. No matter what your wound, illness, or injury is, or whether you’re advanced at riding or just starting out, we’ll do our best to fit you with the right horse and equipment for a safe, enjoyable horse experience. Great examples of past events include our Cutting Horse Classics, our Cowboy Challenges, and cattle drives on working ranches in WY and CO.


What was your inspiration behind it?

This horsemanship program was inspired by and dedicated to the memory of a four-time Purple Heart recipient from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, Colonel Jinx McCain USMC. Colonel McCain hosted trail rides for wounded Marines from Vietnam while stationed at Camp Pendleton in the 1960s.  In fact, his daughter Debbie still works at Camp Pendleton and is an avid advisor to the program.


When was it founded?

Our horsemanship program was founded in 2011 with a dedication ceremony at the Camp Pendleton, CA stables.


What are some of the benefits that injured service members gain from working with horses and learning horsemanship skills?

Horses have a certain magic about them that heals war-torn bodies, traumatized minds, and most importantly, broken spirits. A horse doesn’t care about your past, only that he be led with confidence and respect. Through working together, the horse and rider form a partnership of trust, understanding, and communication that comes together in a divine and magnificent way. The horse not only heals, it uplifts the spirit providing the rider the confidence to saddle up and conquer the challenges of everyday life.


Can you point to some specific examples?

Over three hundred service members, veterans, and their family members have benefited from riding horses in one of our events. Each and every one of them have benefitted in some way. We have two veterans that were on a downward spiral toward death or prison that through the healing powers of the horse and the care and counsel of our staff are now productive citizens with a bright future.


This letter we received from a rider in one of recent clinics best reflects the uplifting power of horses and our program: “This was my first event with the Horsemanship Program and I feel like I experienced more growth than any other program I’ve been in. My biggest challenge is getting back to the outgoing and sociable person I used to be. I went to [two] PTSD program[s]… and I did more talking in the 4 days at the horsemanship clinic than both those combined….  That improvement continued in the airports on the way home and with people at church. I’ve told so many people about how much fun I had and how great the Semper Fi Fund is.


How do I apply to ride with the Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program (JMHP)?

To ride with the JMHP you must first be a member of Semper Fi Fund (SFF).  Once you are SFF member, you can apply for the horsemanship program by filling out the participant form. If you are not a SFF member, fill out the form and email it to John making sure he knows you need to join SFF. He will work with the case managers to see if you qualify for SFF membership.


How do I know when the clinics are and how do I sign up for a particular clinic?

Once John Mayer has your JMHP participant form he puts you on his newsletter email roster. Approximately 6 weeks out from the next clinic, he will send out his “call for riders” email announcing the clinic; its location, dates, and general activities; number of riders; requirements; and deadline for replying to the email to sign up. Once all the applications are in, he will determine the primary riders and at least two standby riders in case one of the primary riders cancels. It’s important to reply to his announcement ASAP upon receipt as almost all clinics have more riders signing up than we have quotas. It’s just as important that once you sign up to attend that you are fully committed to attending as the program buys non-refundable plane tickets and we want to fill all the saddles.


Are there medical requirements to ride with the JMHP?

Yes, your physical and mental condition must be to the point that you can safely ride for extended periods without furthering your injury. We require each participant to sign a liability waiver prior to riding that states “I certify the my medical provider knows of my plan to participate in this event.” You’re encouraged to read the clinic description in detail before signing up as some clinics are much more demanding than others.


What tack or equipment do I need to participate?

The JMHP provides everything needed for a safe, enjoyable experience—horse, saddle, tack and helmet if you choose to wear one. All riders must have non-lace up boots with a heel. This is for your safety in case you do come out of the saddle, slip on boots have a better chance of coming off your foot if it gets hung up in the stirrup.


Are there any cost for me to participate?

As with all Semper Fi Fund events, all cost are paid by the Semper Fi Fund to include per diem to cover expenses during travel.


What if I have never ridden a horse before, can I still apply?

We absolutely welcome new riders. Certain clinics are designated “open to all riders” which means that anyone interested can participate. At these clinics, we’ll start with the fundamentals and then advance our horsemanship skills through building-block training. The JMHP has trained hundreds of participants to ride, even those with critical wounds or injuries, so we are sure we can get you riding as well.


How many clinics can I attend a year?

This depends on several factors—the main challenge is that all our clinics have a limited number of horses available to ride so we only bring one rider for each horse. Since we typically have many more riders sign up for a clinic than we have horses for, we assign riders based on fair share apportionment. Another factor is some clinics require a certain skill level or physical ability so we only open those clinics up to certain, qualified riders. The good news is that once you have attended a JMHP clinic, we’ll assist you with taking horsemanship lessons at home.


I understand you do crafting projects at the JMHP clinics, what is this all about?

When time allows in our clinics, during our non-riding hours we teach our participants “cowboy crafts,” such as leather smithing, metal working, wood working, and rawhide and leather braiding. We believe the timeless adage that if you “teach a person to “fish” then he will eat for the rest of his life.” Many of our riders who have learned a craft during one of our JMHP clinics continue to do it as a hobby or even have applied to our Semper Fi Fund Apprenticeship Program to gain the skills needed to turn the craft into a small business.


I am interested in supporting this program, how can I best donate to the Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program?

The Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program exists because great Americans such as  yourself  believe like we do that the “best thing for the inside of a person is the outside of a horse.”


The program is constantly looking for ranchers, outfitters, trainers, horse associations, and riding facilities willing to share their resources to get our service members horseback and riding. Since the program does not own horses, tack, cattle, or a riding facility, we rely on the support of those that have these resources to share them with our service members.


We usually have several of our riders that yearn to start a career in the horse industry or in ranching, and are looking for jobs or internships to learn more.


Most of our riders have a strong desire  to continue riding at home, but don’t know where they can continue with their horsemanship lessons. If you are a riding instructor, horse trainer, horse association, rancher, or a person with horses that is willing to share your resources with a veteran, then you can assist our riders.


We often need volunteers to assist on certain clinics. The most needed requirement is for camp cooks willing to cook on remote ranches and in the back country over a fire, in Dutch ovens, or gas grills.