Making Socorro a stopover on his trek across the country is an ex-Marine on a mission of helping at-risk dogs, horses and veterans in the future.
Russell Huffman | El Defensor Chieftain photos

According to an ancient proverb, the want of a horseshoe nail resulted in the loss of a kingdom. Still, Matt Perella isn’t one to let his dream of establishing a ranch to provide therapy for military veterans slip away.

The chisel-chinned ex-Marine is riding horseback across the U.S. to make that dream of making the Righteous Life Rescue Ranch a reality. If established, the ranch will seek to rescue older horses and at-risk dogs to provide therapy for those in need.

As a former fitness model, Perella attracts more than his fair share of attention as he rides his dappled buckskin horse Buck alongside Highway 60 just outside the entrance to The Box recreation area.

Perella owes his life to his dog Raffe, who owes his life to Perella.

Buck is about eight miles into testing a new pair of rubber shoes he is wearing for the first time. They are headed toward Socorro despite already having spent almost a week at the old fairgrounds in the city.

The ride is a test that will determine if the trip can continue. Buck has passed his regular checkup with a veterinarian with flying colors, but a farrier said he couldn’t reshoe the horse.

Buck slightly drags one foot when he walks and has worn through several pairs of shoes in less than six weeks. Due to dangers like broken glass and nails, the pavement on roadways is the best place for the horse to walk, but the wear and tear on metal shoes is quick.

“The farrier said Buck couldn’t be shod again for a while,” Perella said. “We had to wait an extra day because we got our order for the rubber shoes in too late.”

The hookup about the rubber shoes has come from one of the hundreds of friends and contacts Perella has made since starting and putting his trip on hold last year. The delay was caused by Raffe, a rescue dog that saved Perella’s life during an episode where PTSD-induced depression led him toward thoughts of suicide.

Ironically, it was the dog’s sore feet that wouldn’t allow him to continue last year, and Perella needed to come up with a new plan despite coming up with a new type of dog shoe he hopes to patent.

Perella’s PTSD isn’t military-related and comes from various sources, including the pressures of once owning a large entertainment business and the onset of the COVID epidemic and its aftereffects. Suffering the same type of aliment as his fellow veterans and having gone through some of their same experiences has left him in tune with them.

That close military connection caused the knowledge of 22 military-related suicides daily in the country to weigh so heavily on Perella and to seek out a way to help. Through his own experiences, he realized the value of animal therapy.

“It was a clear cut-and-dry case that God put him (Raffe) in my life for a reason because I never wanted a dog, and then suddenly, I got a dog. I saved his life because he was a death row dog, so it worked full circle,” Perella said. “I was about to go and get my gun and end it all, and he jumped on top of me, and he wouldn’t let me up.”

Before that, Raffe had been his dog and only gave his attention when coaxed into it.

Matt Perella is on the second leg of his ride across the country, and ultimately hopes to
establish a therapy ranch in Asheville, North Carolina

“When I was about to get up and go get my gun, he just gave me this attention that he’d never done it before, and he did understand what was going on,” Perella said.

Of course, Perella’s cross-country journey is about attention, and it’s been working with major companies Cabela’s and Nutrena stepping up to help sponsor the trip. Those significant contacts have come through the hundreds of people he has met.

There’s one story of the 16-year-old girl that rode with him for a week and helped raise $6,000 for his cause through a GoFundMe account. Other stories include simple roadside stops by an “old guy and his pickup” who stopped and handed Perella $20 for horse feed and the trucker who pulled over his 18-wheeler to give $100.

While Perella’s journey never stopped, it was delayed until this year and picked up at the same point with a few modifications, including a driver (Justin Dills) and a new custom and self-built slide-in camper.

While Perella has a long-range plan for his ranch, he has learned that planning on the road is a hindrance that causes impatience and disappointment.

This second leg of Perella’s ride across the country started on April 11 from Camp Pendleton in California and will end in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, both of which nod to the U.S. Marine Corps. The horseman, Buck, and Raffe have affectionally become known as “The Three Amigos” in numerous stories and television broadcasts nationwide.

Perella hopes to establish his therapy ranch in Asheville, North Carolina, because the weather there offers a year-round opportunity for outdoor therapy. Still, he has developed a great appreciation for the West.

“You know, riding through New Mexico and northern Arizona has been a real treat because I didn’t get to see this part of the country last year. It’s something,” Perella said.

To learn more about Perella and the Righteous Life Rescue Ranch, you can visit online at