Wyatt Hickerson was born a micro preemie at 24 weeks and 5 days, weighing 1 pound, 6 ounces. He was later diagnosed with a borderline intellectual disability and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Marie Osborn has been diagnosed with hydrocephalus and cerebral palsy.
Hayley Gunning was born with a structural brain abnormality.
All three of them got onto a horse, one by one, on Saturday at Heart of the West and showed a crowd of over 575 the power of the statement posted throughout the event — “On the back of a horse, a child’s disability is invisible.”
Heart of the West is an annual event that Carousel Ranch hosts to rope in the majority of the funds needed to keep the ranch operational. The event included live entertainment, dinner, and live and silent auctions.
Last year the ranch, which is dedicated to improving the lives of children and young adults with special needs through equestrian therapy, raised $500,000 at this event.
“It basically brings in about half of our operating budget per year, so it’s definitely important for the ranch and what we do for the kids,” said Carousel Ranch instructor Stefanie Vine.
The annual event continues to grow in size. Longtime attendees and those part of the nonprofit marveled at the number of people roaming around the property.
“Every year I feel like, even after 10 years, I’m still so surprised that people really love what we do and believe in what we do. I mean, I obviously believe in what we do, but to see all these strangers and all these people just cheering us on and really loving on these kids is something special,” said Vine.
“It’s just so awesome to see how many people are willing to contribute to this kind of organization,” said attendee Christine Madey.
Christine and Ellen Madey were chatting about just how long they have gotten their boots dirty at Heart of the West.
They show up every year because they have seen firsthand how Carousel Ranch’s efforts can change someone’s life.
Ellen took her niece to one of her riding lessons, she estimates, about 10 years ago. She watched before her eyes as the Courtney Golin she knew transformed.
“It’s amazing to watch her on the horse,” said Ellen. “She was like a totally different, independent person. That was crazy. It gives her so much confidence.”
“And freedom,” added Christine.
Golin now works at a senior center.
“I think it has a lot to do with how much she was able to grow here,” said Christine.
Attendees were rounded up to bear witness to the transformative experience, to have the same experience Ellen once did.
Hickerson, Osborn and Gunning rode on their horses in front of a cheering crowd as their stories were shared.
“I’ve worked here for 10 years, so I got to watch a lot of these kids grow up and be like, a part of their story, which is really cool,” said Vine. “A lot of these families have become like family to me, so it’s been a neat experience. I love working here.”