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Retired Racehorses Help Returning Veterans
Healing Arenas, Inc. President Julie Baker, second from left, stands with some of her board members while welcoming the crowd to an Open House at the ranch on Combs Road in Escalon on Thursday. Marg Jackson/The Times


Incorporated in 2014, the goal of Healing Arenas, Inc. is to help humans and horses heal.

Julie Baker, president, hosted a kick off of a new Stable Survivors program at the Healing Arenas ranch on Combs Road in Escalon on Thursday evening, outlining the idea behind the program and the goals it hopes to meet.

Retired racehorses are brought in to live at the ranch and, partnered with returning veterans, the horses and humans work together to problem solve, come to terms with issues and learn how to readjust to society.

Thursday’s program started with a contingent of the Escalon American Legion Post presenting the colors, and members Curtis Vaughn and Casey DenOuden raising the flag over the ranch. After the singing of the national anthem, Escalon Community Ambulance Chief Mike Pitassi offered the invocation.

Noting that he has had two sons in the Navy, Pitassi said programs like Stable Survivors that are geared toward helping veterans need to be supported and recognized.

“I’ve seen the last 13 years of war and I know, as a father, what families of vets have to go through every day,” Pitassi said, his voice breaking. “We have asked them to stand for us against other peoples and they have done so in the noblest of ways … we pray for those whose souls have been scarred.”

It is exactly those scarred souls that the Stable Survivors program attempts to reach. Baker said by working with horses in a non-judgmental, non-threatening setting, the animals and humans bond, and work through issues together.

Along with explaining the history and goals of the program, the Thursday night program also featured a special presentation of proclamations, including some to Korean War veteran Doyle Richard Baker, Julie’s dad. He received presentations honoring his wartime service from both Mike Anderson, on behalf of Congressman Jeff Denham, and Nathan Stiles, on behalf of Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen.

“We’re here because of the horses and how horses help people,” Julie Baker told the crowd. “We want to help vets reconnect when they get home.”

She said Healing Arenas has partnered with the Modesto Vet Center to get referrals for the program.

The retired racehorses on the ranch are supported through the Thoroughbred Retirement Association, which pays for hay, veterinary costs and the like.

“There’s some sort of connection with the animals,” Baker said of how well they relate to the veterans.

The horses aren’t used for riding, rather, the veterans work with them to complete tasks in the arena, finding common ground that Baker said can often correlate to struggles the veteran is having in everyday life. By solving a problem in the arena, she said, the hope is they can also problem solve it in the real world.

“They’re so disconnected because that’s what they had to do to survive war,” Baker explained. “They had to.”

The horses can be the bridge that helps them reconnect, she added.

Healing Arenas will be hosting a fundraiser on Sept. 12 and Baker said they are always looking for donations to help support the equine assisted therapy programs and services. For more information, visit or contact Baker at 209-988-7800.

Those attending the Open House on Thursday saw a demonstration – with audience members participating to learn how the sessions are conducted. Baker said it went well – with both groups in the arena, each given a different task to complete with the horses – realizing that they had to communicate with each other to accomplish both teams’ goals.

“It’s our passion,” Baker said of the Stable Survivors project. “It’s our duty to help those who have given so much.”