More than 200 people stopped by Carousel Ranch’s Santa Day on Saturday, a 25-year tradition for the nonprofit near Agua Dulce that provides equine therapy to special needs students of all ages.
In addition to face painting, caroling, smores and, of course, pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus, attendees of the free event, many having special needs that make a typical wait in line to see Santa difficult, also enjoyed a safe space.
“(Becky Graham and Denise Redmond) created this event to celebrate the holiday season with our students and families, and I think also to create a safe place for our students to visit Santa and participate in holiday activities,” Taylor Adachi, executive director of Carousel Ranch, said Tuesday in a phone interview.
The organization works year-round to raise money and provide therapeutic lessons on an ability-to-pay basis for Carousel Ranch clients, but Saturday was about thanking the families and those who make the experiences possible, according to organizers.
“It’s just a fun event that we get to kick off the holiday season with for our students and their families,” Adachi said.
Cindy Padgett, a Newhall resident who’s raising three boys with special needs who ride at Carousel Ranch, said she appreciated events like Saturday’s for several reasons.
She said it was a great opportunity to network with other parents because close-knit communities like Carousel Ranch’s are one of the best ways to find out about an additional support or program that might be available to a family that has a member with special needs.
And more importantly, the environment is geared toward a safe experience for her three boys who are all under 13 and have varying special needs. It can be difficult to navigate certain environments. And she also knows that, if something does happen and someone has a very strong reaction to a stimulus, then she’s surrounded by others who would understand what’s happening.
“It’s hard to take my kids places where they have to wait in line,” Padgett said, comparing Santa Day to a line of boisterous boys and girls who might be waiting to see Santa at the mall.
“They don’t always understand what that means, that we have to wait,” she said.
“So, it’s nice to be able to take my kids, all three of them, some place where I know it’s safe and I know that they’re going to meet their needs, each one of them, and they all have different needs,” she added.
Familiar faces also help, she said, describing Carousel Ranch and its support network as a “second family.”
Graham, who’s also the program director at the facility, said Saturday that these types of events and the 20-acre facility they now host them on are more than “she could have ever imagined” when she and Redmond started the nonprofit in 1997.
“We were just going to do it for a hobby, and that worked, oh, for a month or two,” Graham said with a smile. “And it just has grown ever since.”
The nonprofit currently supports anywhere from 80 to 100 families in the community.
As a lifelong equestrian, Graham said what’s unique about the support offered at the ranch is that the programs are meant to grow and evolve to meet the students’ needs as they learn and develop new skills.
Adachi said the cost to the ranch of giving a student one lesson on horseback is around $120, and that the facility has never turned down a potential student due to the cost.
To support its mission, the facility welcomes donations year-round on its website, carouselranch.org.