Last October, Anne Campbell spoke to the Rotary Club of Aiken about New York-based Saratoga WarHorse, and she talked about how Aiken would be an ideal site for the organization's work. Even though only about six months have passed, her suggestion has become a reality.

“In a couple of weeks, we are starting our first classes; that is remarkable,” said Campbell on Monday night during a Cinco de Mayo celebration and Saratoga WarHorse fundraising event at the new Cumberland Village Clubhouse.

Saratoga WarHorse offers a three-day program for military veterans that involves interacting and bonding with retired Thoroughbred racehorses. Equine Rescue of Aiken's facility on Glenwood Drive will serve as Saratoga WarHorse's home, locally, and it is the nonprofit's first satellite location.

“We would like to put a minimum of 50 veterans through the program here in the next six months, and if we could get 100 through here this year, that would be great,” said Bob Nevins, Saratoga WarHorse's founder. “We'll get as many veterans through the program here as we can raise the money for,” Nevins said.

Campbell is a well-known Aiken resident and a Saratoga WarHorse board member. She also is the wife of Dogwood Stable President Cot Campbell.

“Here's why I got involved in Saratoga WarHorse,” Anne Campbell said. “Two years ago, I was at the racetrack at Saratoga, and somebody invited me to meet a young woman who was there. Her husband, who was a West Point graduate, had killed himself three months before. She was at Saratoga in deep grief. She had heard about Saratoga WarHorse, she had PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and she wanted go through the program.”

Learning about the woman's story, Campbell continued, made her think hard about suicide deaths among former soldiers.

“I decided that this was unacceptable; we cannot accept this,” she said. “We all must be accountable to our veterans.”

The short time it took to get a Saratoga WarHorse division established in Aiken surprised Campbell. But the community's enthusiasm for a worthy equine-related effort didn't.

“This is so typical of Aiken,” Campbell said. “Aiken has a really big heart for any good cause. It cares about horses and dogs, and it cares about rescuing animals and people. It also has a very large military presence. With all my heart, I believe that the marriage between Aiken and Saratoga WarHorse was made in heaven.”

Dede Biles is a reporter for the Aiken Standard.