Hearts, Minds, Wallets Open for Carousel Ranch
Story by Michele E. Buttelman
Photos by Michele E. Buttelman and Leon Worden
Carousel Ranch, the therapeutic riding ranch that provides equestrian therapy to individuals with cognitive and physical disabilities, honored the Crawford family and covered one-third of its annual budget with its Heart of the West fundraiser Saturday.
The 22th annual dinner, auction and children’s riding demonstration attracted a capacity crowd of more than 650 guests.
“We sold out right at the beginning of August, which was amazing,” said Denise Redmond, founder and executive director of Carousel Ranch. “We even had a waiting list.”
More than 60 decorated tables sporting a Western theme were set up under the covered riding arena with large screens flanking the auction stage.
The Crawford family – Wayne and Dianne Crawford, Jeanna and Kyle Crawford and Eric and Jacque Stroh – were honored for their 17-plus years of financial support and volunteer efforts on behalf of Carousel Ranch.
“We wanted to honor them for their amazing contributions,” said Redmond. “We’ve grown so much as a program in the last few years, and there are many reasons for that. But when we look at the core of why Carousel Ranch is the program it is today, we have to acknowledge what this amazing family has done.”
Earlier in the week, the Crawfords were invited to the ranch in Agua Dulce for the unveiling of a large sign atop the covered riding arena declaring the structure the “Crawford Family Arena.”
“It was surprise,” said Redmond. “We were trying to come up with something to give to the Crawford family that would be meaningful, or significant.”
Family patriarch Wayne Crawford said he was “overwhelmed” when he saw the sign.
“If it wasn’t for the Crawford family, all of this wouldn’t exist,” said Redmond. “There wouldn’t be this facility, there wouldn’t be this arena, we couldn’t serve all these kids.”
Crawford said the entire family has embraced Carousel Ranch. He said he still remembers the first time he saw a riding demonstration in 2001.
“The work done by Carousel Ranch with kids just grabbed me the first time I saw a riding demonstration,” he said. “I was crying. It blew me away.”
Daughter-in-law Jeanna Crawford took the Heart of the West event under her wing 14 years ago and transformed it into one of the Santa Clarita Valley’s “must attend” social events. It has raised more than $3.5 million to support the Carousel Ranch programs.
“This event is so important for Carousel Ranch, it provides a third of our operating budget,” said Redmond.
Jeanna and Kyle Crawford’s son, Caynen, 6, is a participant in the Carousel Ranch program.
“No parent expects this to happen. We don’t plan for it,” said Jeanna Crawford. “The love we get here is immeasurable. It makes perfect sense that Caynen feels comfortable here because home is where the heart is, so this is where ours is.”
Crawford son-in-law Eric Stroh has also given his time and talents to the Carousel Ranch cause. He served five years as president of the board and founded the Heart of the West Trap Shoot fundraiser, held each May at the Oak Tree Gun Club.
“Carousel Ranch is a passion I’ve been proud of,” Stroh said. “Every time I see the kids have their lessons, it’s like the first time. It grabs your heart.”
One of the most moving moments of the Heart of the West event is the annual riding demonstration showcasing Carousel Ranch equestrian therapy participants.
Therese Edwards and daughter Olive emceed the riding demonstration.
This year’s riders included Christopher Ochoa, 4, Luc King, 3, three-year-old twins Andrew and David Thompson and Tiffany Chairez, 18.
Ochoa, who has cerebral palsy, smiled as he held his arms out during his ride.
Edwards said since Ochoa has started the therapy he is able to sit up a little stronger due to improved “trunk control.”
“His mother said that what might seem like a small improvement to others is a huge milestone,” said Edwards. “I can just imagine what joy his parents must feel.”
King started riding at Carousel Ranch for more than a year. He started attending the therapy to improve his balance and gait. He would routinely fall eight to 20 times a day. King has now improved to the point where he can run, jump, ride a trike and a scooter.
“He has made so much progress,” said Edwards.
The Thompson twins are recent additions to the Carousel Ranch family, having started therapy just a few months ago.
David was born with autism, and his brother, Andrew, was diagnosed with club feet and epilepsy.
The brothers rode together, one in front of the other, around the arena with a grand finale of Andrew standing up behind his brother on the horse.
“These are brave, fearless and amazing boys,” said Edwards.
Chairez, diagnosed with autism, has been riding at Carousel Ranch for more than a year. She confidently rode Annabelle solo around the arena guiding her mount around the obstacles laid out for the demonstration.
“There is a lot to think about when riding a horse independently. Tiffany is learning multi-tasking skills as well as having the time of her life,” said Edwards.
At the end of the demonstration, officials from the Princess Community Foundation handed out blue ribbons to all the riders.
Auctioneer Mark Drilling energetically worked the crowd during the 41-item live auction.
Two puppies, an Australian labradoodle and a German shepherd mix rescue, were among the highly sought-after items.
Jen Hilton purchased the rescue puppy with a bid of $2,500.
“I’m a dog person. I love dogs,” she said. “They need a good home and need to be loved.”
The labradoodle fetched a winning bid of $3,400 from Lori Rose-Moxie.
“I wanted a puppy to play with my two grandsons,” she said.
Dianne and Wayne Crawford bid $10,000 to retain the rights to the horseshoe-shaped head table for the 2019 Heart of the West event and donated another $10,000 in the “Fund A Need” appeal.
Bidding frenzies erupted over several auction items including an antique 1860 Winchester Kings Improvement Rifle which may have originally been owned by R.J. Reynolds. The item was hammered down sold for $5,500.
A private spa day for five at the five-star Balance Point Spa in Canyon Country raised $4,000, and a seven day stay at a 18th century French chateau was sold twice, earning Carousel Ranch $11,000.
Four tickets to a sold-out Elton John concert at the Staples Center fetched $7,250, and a Princess Cruises Premiere Vacation package was sold twice, bringing in $14,000 for the nonprofit.
Among the other unique items auctioned were a Sunset Trail Ride for 14 at Don-E-Brook Farms ($2,800); seven-night Tuscan, Italy, experience for one including four days of cooking classes ($4,000); Hydro Systems whirlpool bathtub and $1,000 in tile from Marty’s Flooring ($4,750); wine and food pairing at Chef Daniel Otto’s new Newhall restaurant Old Town Junction ($4,750); “Liquid Assets,” top shelf drink creations for 30 and your own signature martini on the menu for a year at Salt Creek Grille ($3,500) and a Channel Islands Harbor Tiki Bar cruise for six ($3,500).
At the end of the auction, Drilling lauded the event volunteers.
“Without the volunteers, Carousel Ranch doesn’t run, this event doesn’t run,” he said.
The Fund-A-Need appeal alone raised nearly $90,000.
A moving video featuring parents of Carousel Ranch children, as well as well as interviews with the Crawford family, preceded the appeal, which had entry points for everyone from $10,000 down to $100.
“This is an opportunity for all of you to get involved, to give and make a difference this evening,” he said. “Tonight, you saw how the dollars make a difference so raise your bidder cards high.”
Sponsorships, silent auction items and donations are still being tallied from the Heart of the West event.
Following the dinner and auction, guests were invited to participate in casino games, cornhole games and dancing, and to visit the Carousel Ranch “kids” in the General Store and Tack Shack.
“I want to thank everyone who attended Heart of the West,” Redmond said. “We raised so much money. Everyone was so generous.”
About Carousel Ranch
Carousel Ranch provides individualized equestrian therapy to more than 70 children a week. Sponsors are needed for the horses and children. Horse sponsorships are available at $3,500 a year, and children can be sponsored for $2,000 a year.
“There is a waiting list, and we want to get as many kids as possible off the list and onto the back of a horse,” said Stroh. “For every child on the waiting list there is another success story waiting to be told.”
For more information, contact Carousel Ranch at (661) 268-8010 or visit CarouselRanch.org.