Santa Clarita resident Mary Reagan said her daughter Mallory, 6, was diagnosed with autism when she was two-years-old.
Despite being physically healthy, Mallory struggles with fear and anxiety.
After taking her to Carousel Ranch for equestrian therapy in 2017, Reagan said she saw an immediate improvement in her behavior.
“[Mallory] just started blossoming,” said Reagan about her daughter’s experience at the ranch.
“Her anxiety, tantrums and problems at home were far lessened. When she’s on the horse, she’s able to talk about some of the things that she’s scared about and work with the therapist.”
Carousel Ranch in Santa Clarita held an open house event Saturday morning where guests enjoyed a pancake breakfast along with complimentary tours of their equestrian and Ready to Work programs.
The event was organized to commemorate the end of their “Carousel Wishes and Valentine Kisses” annual giving campaign, where they raise money during the month of February to fund their therapy sessions and Ready to Work classes for special needs children.
Denise Redmond, the Executive Director and one of the founders of Carousel Ranch, said this is the eighth year of the campaign and they have reached around $77,000 of their $115,000 fundraising goal as of Saturday.
Redmond said they’re in the “home stretch” with this being the last week of their campaign and will be throwing an open house event in conjunction with it starting with this year.
“Today, there’s people who are interested in getting their students into the equestrian program,” said Redmond regarding the event. “It gives a really good opportunity for people to see both programs in action come out and take a tour.”
Carousel Ranch is a nonprofit facility specializing in equestrian therapy and vocational training programs for children with special needs. According to Redmond, they use horses as a tool to work on the same concepts others may be learning in traditional forms of therapy.
“It’s an atmosphere where they don’t see it as therapy,” Redmond said. “It feels fun.”
Redmond said they began their Ready to Work programs once they noticed the kids, who were once seeking their services from a young age, were getting older and needed basic life skills training for future jobs.
The young adults are taught life skills on a levels-based curriculum. Students at the first level are taught about the concept of working and how to work with others, a skill many people with disabilities and autism might struggle with, according to Redmond.
The next level is a one-on-one program where they focus on getting a job and other essential skills such as getting a driver’s license, taking public transportation and learning how to cook.
Students in the cooking class call themselves “The Cooking Club” and attend a virtual class once a month where they are taught to cook multiple dishes including the heart-shaped pancakes served at the open house.
Camryn Gelfo, the Program Coordinator for Ready to Work, said the Cooking Club program was developed during the pandemic because cooking is something they can learn in the safety of their own home.
Gelfo said the most rewarding part of coordinating this program is seeing how proud her students are of themselves.
“They’re doing all the work…and then introducing themselves to people as well,” Gelfo said. “ Just seeing how proud of themselves they are makes me feel so good.”
Reagan said Mallory has made friends who are just like her at Carousel Ranch and have interacted with people who accept her for who she is.
“They really just embrace everything when it comes to disabilities and they never turn a family away.” said Reagan speaking highly of the facility.
For more information about Carousel Ranch and their “Carousel Wishes & Valentine Kisses Campaign,” people can visit their website to browse their programs and special events.