Rising out of the northeast edge of the Suisun Marsh, Rush Ranch stretches across 2,070 acres of marsh and rolling grassland. Purchased in 1988 by Solano Land Trust, Rush Ranch provides recreational and educational opportunities to thousands of visitors each year. The ranch, with its historical buildings and self-guided trails, is located approximately two miles south of Highway 12 on Grizzly Island Road. It is open to the public seven days a week year-round, from 8 a.m. to sunset.
By Aleta George
It wasn’t the sight of the horses that triggered something inside of Brent Satterlee’s brain.
“It was the smell of manure and earth that started to bring back memories,” says his wife, Kristi Satterlee. “It was like a fog lifted, and he just woke up.”
Brent had spent 20 years in the US Army as a combat medic. Toward the end of his successful career, the otherwise strong and healthy man started showing signs of early onset dementia.
Although Brent and his good friend Kristi had known one another for thirty years, they rarely saw each other. Three years ago, they were reunited at a birthday party for Brent. Kristi was shocked to see how much he had declined due to the disease. He was dangerously thin and heading toward assisted living because he could no longer care for himself. The couple ended up marrying, and Kristi was determined to turn Brent’s health around. Her strategy included walks in nature, which prompted her to research local open spaces like Rush Ranch.
Memories of the land
Kristi knew that Brent had spent part of his youth on a large ranch in Northern California. On their first visit to Rush Ranch, she saw something spark in Brent while they were standing in front of the stallion barn. She talked to Monatte, the Rush Ranch steward, who told them that Access Adventure has a wounded veteran program. They signed up.
Brent started to visit Rush Ranch two days a week, where with Kristi’s help, he fed the horses, mucked the stables, and worked with Virgil, a long-time volunteer at Rush Ranch. Visits to Rush Ranch gave Brent something to look forward to.
“He started feeling like a man again. Everything about him sparkled, and he became alive,” says Kristi.
Sometimes the connection was quiet. On sunny days, Brent liked to nap in the grass outside of the paddocks and put his hand inside the fence. The mares and their foals would watch him and nudge his hand.
His renewal was evident at home, too, Kristi says. Before spending time at Rush Ranch, Brent had been put on palliative care, one step before convalescence. He was losing his language skills and was on a downhill slide. Since his visits to Rush, he started putting on his own shoes, taking out the trash, helping with dinner, and being more independent in general. Kristi and Brent hope that sharing their story will encourage more veterans to visit the ranch.
“We can’t change the outcome of his disease, but we can change our outlook on it,” says Kristi. “Being here lights him up, and he’s not in the gloom of his horrible diagnosis. It gives him hope, and his quality of life has gone through the roof.”
“We are encouraged that this chance encounter at Rush Ranch gave Brent a new lease on life and hope that others will connect with nature as well,” Solano Land Trust said in a prepared release. “We are grateful for the generous support of donors and volunteers who contribute to the quality of lives, often without realizing the impact.”