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Trot on over to support Heart of the West

Carousel Ranch hosts 13th annual benefit, dinner and casino night

Posted: August 22, 2009 7:11 p.m.
Updated: August 23, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Jenny Barlong, center, sits on Banner the horse while Derek Schaeffer stands behind her during a riding demonstration at the 12th annual Heart of the West fundraiser.

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Carousel Therapeutic Riding Ranch is inviting community members to saddle up and follow the trail to a good time when they hold their 13th annual Heart of the West fundraiser 5:30 p.m. Saturday. Held on the spacious grounds of the Blomgren Family Ranch estate on Sierra Highway, the event will benefit the nonprofit organization which has provided equestrian therapy to children with special needs since 1997.

“This event is really the highlight of our year,” said Denise Tomey, Carousel Ranch executive director. “It’s so wonderful to see friends and community members coming together to support us in what we do.”

Tomey co-founded the organization with Program Director Becky Graham after collaborating on the idea of a less conventional form of therapy for those with special needs. Through the use of horses, the ranch offers a wide variety of developmental, therapeutic and recreational programs to children with all kinds of disabilities. No matter the student’s physical, mental or emotional capabilities, the ranch works to create a goal-oriented program that is custom tailored to fit the specific needs of each child.

Attendees will mingle under the stars while dining on gourmet cuisine. Those with a hankering for sweet refreshment can mosey over to the root beer float stand, which will be operated by some of the ranch’s riding students.

“They’re going to be like ‘The Little Rascals,’ but cuter,” said Event Coordinator, Heather Edwards.

High-end silent and live auction items will be on display for guests to peruse and bid on throughout the evening. Luxury silent auction items include a trip for two to Washington state for a wine tasting excursion on horseback. Other goodies up for grabs will include digital devices, a variety of luxury trips and unique specialty items, among other surprises.

In addition to dinner and entertainment a “casino” will also be open for the enjoyment of the guests.

All proceeds from the event benefit the ranch’s therapeutic riding programs.

“There is something really special about the interaction between the children and our horses here,” said Edwards. “The bonds that they create actually carry over into the child’s everyday life. It helps on so many levels.”

These techniques are found especially helpful in autistic students who find it difficult to form bonds with others.

“One student was taught how to brush the hair of her horse,” said Edwards. “After learning that this was a caring act, she was able to
let her mother brush her hair for the first time ever.”

The ranch works with children with many forms of disabilities, including autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. But children with rare genetic disorders and even non-diagnosable conditions have also been recipients of riding therapy.

Currently, 100 special-needs students are under instruction at the ranch every week, paired carefully with one of the ranch’s 14 horses.

An instructor and two spotters are present to aid in the child’s lesson and monitor their progression.

“Each student has a horse that was chosen to suit him or her specifically,” said Edwards. “They will always be paired with the same horse who will accommodate what they need according to the certain disability.”

No matter the size of the animal, each horse chosen to work at the ranch must embody a calm and stable character.

During an individual lesson, students are taught therapeutic riding techniques, as well as gymnastics on a moving horse, called vaulting.

“We have some students with no legs who need to build upper body strength,” said Edwards. “The techniques of teaching them to ride by standing on their hands is really helpful for them.”

To open Heart of the West ,a special riding demonstration will feature five the ranch’s students.

“This is the most amazing part of the evening,” said Tomey. “It is so emotional and inspiring to watch them as they ride out on their horses. There usually isn’t a dry eye in the house.”

Each student rider will be individually announced and show-off their skills on horseback. An autistic student at the ranch since the age of 6, Duncan Gregg, 10, was chosen to ride for this year’s audience.

One student is no stranger to performing. Dana Sachs has been riding with the ranch since the age of 4.

With no arms and only one leg, Sachs learned to use therapeutic riding practices to find ways to utilize her body and build core strength.

Now 22 years old, Sachs has won the California Network For Equestrian Therapy State Horse Show, for riders with disabilities.

“Dana is the heart of Carousel Ranch because of what she embodies,” said Edwards.

Event guests have enjoyed Sachs’ performances at previous Heart of the West events.

“These children are the most amazing people,” said Tomey. “Spending just a few moments a day with any of them just reinforces why I am doing this.”

Because of current economic conditions, the organization has come up with a way for people to support the cause without breaking the bank.

With the new addition of a “general store” during the fundraiser, guests can sponsor ranch necessities such as carrots, horseshoeing and even fly spray.

“We want people to know that they don’t have to spend a lot of money to make a big difference,” said Tomey. “Every little bit helps and each contribution comes together to create support for these kids. We are so grateful for everything.”

Individual “Lone Ranger” ticket prices are $85 for general seating and $175 for VIP seating.

“We know that we can’t cure disabilities, but we can help improve the quality of each of our student’s lives. We see little miracles everyday,” said Edwards.

Princess Cruises is the presenting sponsor.

For information visit or or call Carousel Ranch at (661) 268-8010.



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