SCV Opens Its Heart, Wallet for Carousel Ranch
A sellout crowd spent oodles of money (that’s an approximation) Saturday night to support the programs at Carousel Ranch, an equestrian therapy clinic in Mint Canyon that treats children and young adults who have a variety of special needs.
Highlight of the evening was a horseback riding demonstration by Anthony Faggioli, 16, Anthony Lanzara, 12, Jalen Fender, 4, and baby Lilly Taylor – four of the organization’s 130 young clients.
The latter figure represents a 30 percent increase over last year, said Executive Director Denise Redmond, thanks to a $100,000 grant from the county for a workforce preparedness program and ongoing support from the Santa Clarita Valley community through events such as Saturday’s 21st annual Heart of the West fundraiser.
Funds poured in through both a silent and live auction, the sentimental favorite of which was a 9-week-old Labradoodle puppy that went to Carousel Ranch board member Wayne Crawford’s wife, Dianne.
ABOUT SATURDAY’S STUDENT RIDERS
Little Lilly has been riding at the ranch since she was just 3 months old! Her mom, Jen, had put her on our waiting list when she was only a few months pregnant after learning that she would be born with special needs. Those needs magnified when Lilly was diagnosed with Walker Warburg Syndrome, a form of muscular dystrophy which has a very short lifespan. In her mom’s words… “Our family was told that her body would basically start failing her from the first day she was born. Lilly has vision and hearing impairments, as well as muscle weakness. I remember asking what we could do to help her thrive and the doctors told us “exercise and repetition.” I remember the day that she started riding to be the first day she started vocalizing. We were ecstatic. Lilly has been able to get more than just repetition and exercise and the ranch, she gets love and encouragement. As for her father and I we get endless support and resources from the staff, volunteers and sponsors.”
Her instructor Katie explains that while working with Lilly, we are always conscious of the goal… keeping her as strong as possible to fight the degenerative nature of her syndrome. We have seen improvement in her head and neck strength, vision, grasp and endurance. Because of Lilly’s size and age, we started out very slow and did a limited amount of exercises on the horse. The horse’s movement alone engages many of Lilly’s muscles that are not typically engaged and challenged. Each week is different, sometimes Lilly sleeps through her lesson – which is just fine, because who would complain about getting exercise while asleep?
Her mom continues “Carousel Ranch has welcomed our family into theirs and now we don’t know where we would be without it. And though there are days where Lilly doesn’t want to work, there are also days where she’s on the horse with Katie and couldn’t be happier. Lilly is our perfect little girl and seeing how much muscle tone she has been able to retain from standing, riding forward, side saddle and doing tummy time on her good buddy. Cricket, with Katie is a huge part of that.”
We are not certain of what the future holds for Ms. Lilly, but we keep pushing her to become stronger every week and look forward to the time we get to spend with her on the horse! Her mom shares, “Lilly wasn’t given the best odds, but I’ve seen her odds improve immensely every week because of this amazing place.”
Four-year-old Jalen has improved by leaps and bounds in his time riding at the ranch. When he began riding, he was very uncertain and nervous about riding the horse as well as being away from mom. It took some time to get Jalen to trust his instructor as well as the horse, but as each week passed we began to see his confidence improve little by little.
In his mom’s words… “You never forget the day your child is given a ‘diagnosis.’ Everyone tries to tell you what your child will or won’t achieve. The truth is no one can tell you what your child can do, they will find a way to show the world. The only thing a child needs is a way and a place to shine. Jalen started visiting Carousel Ranch when he was a year and a half old and quickly it became obvious that nobody needs to tell you what your child can or can’t do here, your child will show you. There are no limits or judgments at the ranch.”
On the horse we are able to work on things that Jalen works on in a traditional therapy setting – such as speech, confidence building, socializing, balance, coordination and motor skills. On the horse we’ve been working on laying on his back, which has overlapped into his swim lessons as well. Where he used to be afraid to lay back in swim, on the horse (and even on the ground), he now enjoys laying down on the horse and the bumpy ride!
His mom explains, “Like all children, Jalen wants to try hard and be proud of himself. When Jalen started riding two years ago it was challenging and he worked hard for many months to adjust to this new form of therapy. As time went on it was clear he was gaining more confidence in himself and pushing himself more and more each week. Katie, his trainer, always talks to me about what has been happening with Jalen through the week and we set goals. They work together with his horse Mookie to improve his balance, make adjustments for his vision, work on speech, muscle control and overall strength. The list is endless. The best part is each week the list changes a little. The tasks get a little more challenging with Jalen, Katie and Mookie pressing onward and upward. Jalen loves his horse and beams with pride when he conquers a task. There are few places where there are opportunities for a child to do so much for themselves. Carousel Ranch is a family that surrounds every child with support and love – and most of all – possibility.”
Jalen is a joy to work with each week and we know the future holds great things for this little guy!
Anthony, now 7 years old, was diagnosed with Cystic Bilateral Periventricular Leukomalacia or (PVL) resulting in quadriplegic spastic cerebral palsy. Anthony and his twin sister Lana have overcome many obstacles since they were born at 25 weeks – only weighing 1-1/2 lbs – and both having heart surgery at eight days old.
Each day, we see many of the riders at Carousel Ranch are focused on the work ahead of them, but with Anthony it’s all about him filling everyone in on which Super Hero is doing what and the names of each Power Ranger (as well as their specific uniform color) – all while the movement of his horse is “secretly” benefiting his entire body. Equine assisted therapy is developing his core strength, balance, coordination – and most importantly the flexibility in his legs and hips – without him having to think twice about it, he gets to just be a kid and have fun.
In the words of his mom, “Anthony has only been riding at Carousel Ranch for nine months, but has experienced more progress than any other traditional physical/occupational therapy programs he has participated in. The other therapies were always hard work for Anthony and proved difficult for his interest and motivation, resulting in slow and minimal progress. Anthony has tried, and continues to try, many different kinds of therapy and we feel so lucky he was given the opportunity to give “horse therapy” a chance. Each week Anthony works on skills that improve his flexibility and strengthen his core muscles – improving his self-confidence while giving him the feeling of success and achievement. The Ranch has helped Anthony with his strength and balance and also his desire to try new things, as well as develop better control of both fine and gross motor skills. For the past four years, Anthony has been receiving Botox injections every three months to reduce the muscular spasticity in his legs and ankles. Anthony is especially happy to not have needed any injections for the past nine months since receiving therapy at Carousel Ranch!”
We have seen that Anthony is also gaining confidence and taking more responsibility with changing riding positions throughout his time on the horse. He is kind, he is daring, his laughter fills the arena and he is “almost always” compliant with the exercises we ask of him.
His mom explains, “Carousel Ranch therapy is not only beneficial and challenging but is also filled with laughs and smiles as he works with his instructor, Becky. From across the arena, you can hear him laughing and enjoying himself as he explains in detail about Superheroes, Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers to the staff helping him.”
Anthony’s instructor Becky says, “Anthony is our ‘Superhero.'”
In Anthony’s own words…
“My name is Anthony Faggioli IV. I am 16 years old and am a junior in high school and have cerebral palsy. I began lessons here at Carousel Ranch at the age of 2 1/2. The first horse that 1 rode when I came here was Rooster. After several years of riding Rooster I switched to Banner. At the age of nine I had major leg surgery. After the surgery I was in tremendous amounts of pain. I remember being in full legs casts with a rod between my legs. I was in bed for two months and after that. I had to learn how to walk all over again. It took me over a year to recover. However, I can now walk without the use of a walker or wheelchair and am able to ride horses again. The one thing my doctor told me following surgery was that from now on I will always have to do physical therapy on a daily basis at home – which admittedly I do not do. I hate stretching. A couple of years ago, I decided to come back to Carousel Ranch because doing my stretches in my room was very boring and I never really did them anyway. By going back to Carousel Ranch, I could get the stretch that I needed while being around horses and the friendly staff.”
His instructor Stefanie explains that Anthony’s determination tc maintain his flexibility and gait is what makes him a joy to worl with. During each lesson, Anthony will tell her where he feel tight and what muscle groups he thinks we need to work on. Ir his case, the horse truly does most of the work. The multi-plana motion of the horse walking works Anthony’s major muscle group even when he himself is not working. Our main focus during Anthony’s lessons is to loosen his hips and strengthen the muscle of his outer thigh, in order to prevent his legs from “scissoring.’ As you can imagine simply spanning a horse stretches Anthony’ hips gradually for the entire half hour. It is apparent at the enc of 30 minutes how much looser his hips are. During Anthony’ lessons we also utilize the horse to stretch out his lower back The stretch Anthony gets from walking hand over hand dowr his horses neck while his legs are still stretched out spanning th< horse is not easily replicated on the ground. The great thing abou Anthony is that he tells you what areas he needs to work on anc will often come up with exercises himself in order to access thos< muscle groups that need work. This is such a unique experience because we can only work what we can see and when Anthom expresses areas that he feels need work, it brings a whole new level to our weekly sessions. We often joke that Anthony basicalh teaches himself!
Anthony continues, “After each lesson, I can tell that I am mon stretched out than I was just 30 minutes prior. It’s a unique stretcl that I can’t get with my home exercises. Each lesson helps me tc walk better. A big thank you to everyone at Carousel Ranch fo being awesome and amazing – and helping me walk better!”
Apart from the physical work of each lesson Anthony is just such a joy to spend time with each week. He is the most mature high schooler you will ever meet. We spend the half hour discussinj school, homework, college tours and future employment goals Currently Anthony wants to major in psychology; he even pretends to psychoanalyze his dear horse, Gus, describing to us Gus’ persona if he were a human. We have no doubt that Anthony will go on to do great things in this world!