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Sergeant Jason Wilmer washes his horse after a long day of cutting horse training. The three-day training prepared the Marines for the Wounded Warrior Cutting Horse Classic II Friday and the D&M Cattle Company here.

Photo by Aquita Brown

Healing with horses: Marines compete in Classic

8 Nov 2011 | Sgt. Justin Smith

The United States Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment partnered with the Semper Fi Fund and  D & M Cattle Company to host the Wounded Warrior Cutting Horse Classic II here Oct. 18-21.  Ten Marines and one sailor, who had minimal riding experience, learned how to saddle, care for and ride horses.  The riders’ goal through the training was to successfully “cut” cattle while on horseback during the Classic competition Friday.   Cutting is the equestrian sport of separating a cow from the herd; it mimics a skill cattle herders used to vaccinate or treat cattle.

This is the second cutting horse competition created by Col. John L. Mayer, commanding officer of the Wounded Warrior Regiment.  Mayer, along with retired Army colonel Don York, D & M Cattle Company owner, teamed up to build the program from the bottom up.  Top-notch trainers and contenders in the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) are brought in to give these young men and women an accelerated learning experience on the sport of horse cutting.  Mayer and York, both avid horsemen and military leaders, formed the Wounded Warrior Cutting Horse Classic to motivate and teach a skill to  wounded, ill, and injured Marines and sailors.

The Classic presented 10 riders, all of whom are assigned to battalions within the Wounded Warrior Regiment, the opportunity to learn the sport for three days, gaining the skills to compete against one another on the fourth and final day.  The participants learned stall maintenance, brushing and washing horses, flag drills, herding, and basic riding.  Riders were assigned to two divisions, amateur and non-pro; division placement was based on how the riders preformed during pre-qualification runs Thursday.  Of the 10 riders, four placed in the non-pro division. 

Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class (FMF) Melissa Jamarillo, the lone sailor in the competition, was one of the four riders to qualify as a non-pro.  Jamarillo had never ridden before the clinic and was extremely nervous on day one of the camp.  With the help of expert horsemen such as Brian Wideman, Mo Smith, and lead trainer Jim McDonough, she was able to place second in her division.  She finished second only to Sgt. Israel Franco by just half a point.

McDonough made reference to the expertise of the trainers time and time again stating that it takes months to get people competition ready, these Marines and Sailors were able to train for three consecutive days and compete on the fourth. 

The event received outstanding reviews from both the staff and participants.  Cpl. Camilo Rojas, a rider from Wounded Warrior Battalion West, said the competition was “Good for my mind, body and spirit.”  Rojas is a rifleman who  transferred to Wounded Warrior Battalion West from 3rd Battalion 5th Marine Regiment.

Cpl. Sean Venezia, also from Battalion West, spoke of the competition saying, “It was good therapy” and “got us back into something we like and haven’t done in a while.”  Venezia mentioned that it was “calming and relaxing” and also would like to attend the next Wounded Warrior Cutting Horse Classic.

From the Regimental staff point of view, Maj. Jeff Salzeider, of the operations section said that the best part of the clinic was seeing the change in the Marines and Sailors and watching their confidence grow. 

The competition concluded Friday with Sgt. Israel Franco announced as the champion for the non-pro division and Cpl. Noah Felding winning the amateur division.  The day before the competition Felding said, “I’ve never really rode like this before, it’s fun.”  Felding also mentioned in the same interview that he was excited to compete Friday.

The WWR provides and facilitates non-medical care to combat and non-combat wounded, ill, and injured Marines, and Sailors attached to or in direct support of Marine units and their family members in order to assist them as they return to duty or transition to civilian life. The Regi­mental Headquarters element, located in Quantico, Va., commands the operations of two Wounded Warrior Battalions lo­cated at Camp Pendleton, Calif, and Camp Lejeune, N.C., and multiple detachments in locations around the globe.

For more information about the Wounded Warrior Regiment go to or fan us on Facebook,  For support, call the 24/7 Sergeant Merlin German Call Center at (877) 487-6299.