I first met Rolland Phillips when he was 19 -yrs old in San Diego when my wife and I were just returning from a 4-year sailing expedition in 1994 with our two children.
Rolland was in the Navy, and wanting to try-out for the BUDS program (Seals). We played chess and talked about sailing and SCUBA diving often.
Later, in 2002, after graduating the San Diego police academy, he joined the Army and was deployed to Iraq as Army Military Police.
During his deployment, Roland was in a police station in Mosul when it was leveled by a bomb. He spend time at Walter Reed Hospital, and then more time recovering at the Wounded Warriors Program in Olympia WA.
He reconnected with me in 2015. He was depressed and like some many other combat veterans, in bad shape. I invited him to visit us up here in the wilderness at our ranch (Wild Horse Ranch) where we were living-among and studying the heritage herd of wild horses. We had begun our own journey with wild horses in 2014.
By the time of Roland’s visit, we had become accepted by the local horses as friends, a process that took about 6-months living among them and the herd. Stallions and family bands would regularly walk up to us and share breath (a social greeting usually reserved between horses). We had become friends with most of the herd, including a very powerful wild stallion that we called ‘Black Fury’.
In his peak, Black was the King of Stallions… yet, he was as gentle as could be with us.
During Rolland’s week-long visit he saw Black raising hell with some bachelors and it was truly something to behold. Like Knights of old competing for the favor of a princess, they would joust, a necessary part of evolutionary natural selection.
Then one morning, Black came up to where Roland and I were standing.
There were no fences or barriers between Black and us.
Rolland was scared, and half-kiddingly asked if Black was going to kill him.
I simply said “no, he’s coming to meet you. I explained a little bit about wild horse society, and that Black probably thought that Rolland was a new member of my family band.
Black walked right up to Roland, and stood right next to Rolland.
Roland was a little tense, so I told Rolland to slowly put his hand up on his neck, which Rolland did.
Then Black stared straight at Rolland for about 10-seconds, which seemed like an eternity, and then he turned, and walked back down the hill to his family band.
Rolland’s demeanor had changed and even with his sunglasses on, I could see his facial expression has changed. I asked him what was that moment about? Rolland responded, ‘it felt like someone had put a warm blanket over his soul.’
The next day Rolland went back home to San Diego. About week later he called me and asked me what would be a good thing to do to get back into shape. Knowing a little about his condition, I suggested Yoga or Thai Chi.
About a month after that, Rolland called my and said he had enrolled into a mixed-martial arts school. And I commended his choice.
It was about a year later when Rolland called me and had some surprising news, he had become a champion in mixed martial arts in his age and weight bracket.
And Rolland attributed his accomplishment to Black Fury. Rolland said that in the instant, when the warmth came over his body and soul, that Black had given Roland part of himself.
Here is Rolland’s old GoFundMe page, where he speaks about Black Fury:
(Note: I took the photo of Black and Rolland)
Awe-inspiring, beatuiful, superior, powerful and wild. A Stallion named Black–brought me back home. A gift I did not see coming–this horse took to me as if he knew me for life. Feeling his wisdom through his eyes and sense of purpose, Black gave part of himself to me. This was not chance, this was instinctual. He knew my journey by intuition and blessed me with his spirit now in my soul.
Soon after, I started competing on the IBJJF International tour.