Carousel Ranch hosts 23rd annual ‘Heart of the West’

Preston Phillippi, 4, does a trick on a horse during his demonstration at the "Heart of the West" fundraiser. Caleb Lunetta / The Signal.

Carousel Ranch, a nonprofit that offers equestrian therapy to children with special needs, hosted a sellout crowd for its 23rd annual Heart of the West fundraiser at the Agua Dulce property Saturday night.

“This is our major fundraiser for the year. It’s what raises a third or more of our operating budget, believe it or not,” said Executive Director Denise Redmond. “This night enables us to do what we do all year long.”

Redmond said that the event, including volunteers, had 800 people in attendance.

Bodhi Grable, 4, is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, but was still able to show off his riding skills during the “Heart of the West” demonstration period Saturday. Caleb Lunetta / The Signal.

“This year, we raised over $450,000, making our ‘little event that could’ one that has net over $4,450,000 in 15 years,” said Jeanna Crawford, founder of Heart of the West and a Carousel Ranch parent. “Success tastes a lot like blood, sweat, sunblock and tears — so many joy-filled tears.”

The event, which was presented by Princess Cruises Community Foundation, featured four of Carousel Ranch’s students doing horseback riding demonstrations for hundreds of cheering and teary-eyed onlookers. At the end of the demonstrations, the guests were told that the students showcasing their horseback-riding skills were in need of a Carousel Ranch scholarship in order to help their families cover the costs associated with equestrian therapy.

One such student, Kylee Postel, said she had been on the waiting list for two years to get into Carousel Ranch, and was chosen to do the demonstration after riding for the past 10 months. Postel was diagnosed with abdominal issues, as well as mitochondrial myopathies, which cause constant and continued leg, back and body aches and pains, and she says the equestrian therapy has helped her greatly.

The dining and stage area at Carousel Ranch a few minutes before hundreds would sit down to eat Salt Creek Grille and hear live music and an auction. Caleb Lunetta / The Signal.

“It helps my muscles and I get to ride horses,” Postel said, adding she comes to Carousel Ranch once a week. “I love horses.”

Her parents share the same optimism about Carousel Ranch.

“What they’ve done for her, she used to cry every day because of leg pains, back pains and everything she goes through,” said Scott Postel, Kylee’s father. “It made a huge difference in her capabilities, freeing up her muscles and strengthening them so that she can do what she does … it made a huge change.”

The demonstration was followed by a dinner catered by Salt Creek Grille, as well as both live and silent auctions, with close to 300 items being up for sale. Guests were also entertained during “Heart of the West After Dark” in the ranch’s western town, with a live band, casino games and dancing.

Kylee Postel, 16, demonstrates what she has learned in the past 10 months of riding at Carousel Ranch. Caleb Lunetta / The Signal.

“The hardest thing to do is raise your own bar — but every year, with the children and young adults of Carousel Ranch leading the way, our Heart of the West guests do just that and continue to make all our dreams a reality,” said Crawford. “You don’t just come to ‘Heart of the West’ at Carousel Ranch — you are changed there.”

Crawford said she was excited for next year’s event, which is already scheduled for Aug. 29, 2020.

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