Carousel Ranch hosting open house, fundraising drive

Dan Watson | Signal file photo Carousel Ranch Program Director Becky Graham, left, assists Elliot Ashe, 5, as she leans back on her horse, Mo, as she demonstrates her riding skills that also strengthen her body at the 19th Annual Heart of the West, "Home at Last" event held at Carousel Ranch in Santa Clarita on Saturday.

Carousel Ranch is reaching out to the donor community for its “Carousel Wishes and Valentine Kisses” annual giving campaign.

Carousel Ranch is a nonprofit facility where children with special needs can discover and experience some of their greatest achievements through equestrian therapy and vocational training programs, according to officials.

During the month of February, the organizations has set a fundraising goal of $100,000, as the ranch seeks to fund scholarships for students on the waiting list to take part in the therapy.

The funds are to support the operations and growth of the equestrian therapy program and Ready to Work (RTW!), an innovative employment readiness and training program for young adults with special needs.

Dedicated to providing developmental therapeutic and recreational programs for disabled and disadvantaged children through horses for over 20 years, Carousel Ranch is a valuable community resource for a number of reasons, officials said.

Therapy lessons are, by design, disguised as fun in an atmosphere where every child can succeed, officials said. The movement of the horse causes an inherent response from the child, relaxing muscles that are tight, increasing tone in muscles that are weak, building balance, coordination and control.

To feel the impact, imagine a teenage girl confined to a wheelchair being lifted onto the back of a horse and knowing what it feels to walk for the first time in her life. Or watching a young boy with limited use of his right arm and leg due to a stroke suffered before birth balance atop his favorite mare, according to a Carousel Ranch news release.

Carousel Ranch also shared heartbreaking tales such as Lilly Taylor’s, to demonstrate the community need and how the nonprofit can help serve the special needs community.

Lilly has been riding at the ranch since she was 3 months old and diagnosed with Walker Warburg Syndrome, a form of muscular dystrophy, which has a very short lifespan.

“Our family was told that her body would basically start failing her from the first day she was born,” said Lilly’s mother, Jen Taylor. “She has vision and hearing impairments, as well as muscle weakness. I remember the day she started riding to be the first day she vocalized. Lilly gets love and encouragement at Carousel Ranch and her father and I receive endless support and resources from the staff, volunteers, and sponsors.”

Her instructor Katie Pope explains that while working with Lilly the goal is to keep her as strong as possible to fight the degenerative nature of her syndrome. The horse’s movement alone engages many of Lilly’s muscles that are not typically engaged and challenged. In less than a year, Pope has seen improvements in the infant’s head and neck strength, vision, grasp, and endurance.

“Lilly wasn’t given the best odds, but I’ve seen her odds improve immensely every week because of this amazing place,” said Taylor referring to Carousel Ranch.

Unfortunately, there are more children needing services that cannot be accommodated. Each student lesson is subsidized so there is always a deficit. The families whose children ride at the Ranch face overwhelming challenges that most people cannot begin to comprehend. The equestrian therapy program is individualized for each student to boost the developmental and emotional benefits.

Each year many children with special needs wait for the opportunity to improve their health and experience life at Carousel Ranch. The Ranch is growing to serve more children.

All donations, large or small, are welcome. It can take years to train a horse, staff, and volunteers. Gifts will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $25,000 total, thanks to a very generous donation made by Wayne and Dianne Crawford.

The equestrian center will host a community open house on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. located at 34289 Rocking Horse Road in Santa Clarita.

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