Carousel Ranch rings in the holiday season with Santa Day

Santa Claus (Dennis Koontz) picks up Preston Phillippi, 5, as Santa arrives at the annual Santa Day at Carousel Ranch event on Saturday, December 14, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

Carousel Ranch opened its doors Saturday for students and their families to celebrate the holiday in a safe environment where the students’ disabilities would be accommodated.  

“It is a day where board members, staff and families can share the holidays together and do something special for the kids,” said Denise Redmond, executive director at Carousel Ranch. 

Attendees make Christmas ornaments during the annual Santa Day at Carousel Ranch event on Saturday, December 14, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

According to Redmond, this event started years ago after parents asked the ranch to have a special day where their children can take photos with Santa at the ranch. Since then, the event has grown from an event with 10 or 12 children to one that expects more than 350 people.  

At the event, they have a professional photo studio where the children can take photos with Mr. and Mrs. Claus. 

Carousel Ranch uses both equestrian therapies and vocational training programs to improve the lives of children and young adults with special needs, according to the Carousel Ranch website.  

All around the area, there were stimulating and interactive activities for the children to participate in. There was a special treat station where students could put together a treat for the horses, a craft station and a table to write a letter to Santa Claus. After writing the letter, they placed their letters into a red mailbox directed to Santa. 

Carolers’ voices filled the space along with the smell of a campfire burning in the center of the area to help create a warming and comforting atmosphere. Families throughout the event were seen interacting and petting the animals all around the farm, including a donkey, miniature horse and regular-sized horses. 

Riley Gibbs, 11, pets Earl after feeding him a candy-cane in the petting zoo during the annual Santa Day at Carousel Ranch event on Saturday, December 14, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

“It’s a heartwarming and great event for the kids,” said Rianne Pringle, mother of a student enrolled at the ranch. “It is a great time for them to spend time with their peers and all the other animals.” 

Pringle’s daughter Riley first started attending Carousel Ranch at 7 soon after her daughter’s physical delays were discovered. 

During Riley’s time at the ranch, Pringle said, their therapy helps build her core, upper body and leg strength. 

Said Riley: “When I get on the horse, I do gymnastics and tricks on the horse’s back.”

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