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Heart of the West fundraiser Saturday

Making a difference for disabled children

Posted: August 21, 2008 9:12 p.m.
Updated: October 23, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Performers and assistants take a bow at the 2007 Heart of the West riding demonstration. Performers and assistants take a bow at the 2007 Heart of the West riding demonstration.
Performers and assistants take a bow at the 2007 Heart of the West riding demonstration.

Imagine that the most wonderful day of your life suddenly takes a left turn - and the child you hoped and prayed would be perfect - isn't. For families with children born with Down's Syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and a host of other developmental, mental and physical disabilities, life can become very difficult.

It can also be an expensive world - searching for the right doctors, the right medicine, the right program or regimen that may offer help and relief to your child.

These are the families of Carousel Ranch, a horse therapy program that has produced what families often call "miracles."

Carousel Therapeutic Riding Ranch, in Agua Dulce, serves nearly 100 children with a waiting list of nearly 80 more.

"Horse therapy impacts families in big ways and in small ways," said Denise Tomey, executive director of Carousel Ranch. "Every day we see changes in the children. Sometimes it's big, when they say their first word, and sometimes it is a small thing - like being able to hang on. To be able to hang on means a child then can hang on to the shopping cart and go shopping for the first time. To families, that is huge."

The 12th annual Heart of the West dinner, auction, casino and children's riding demonstration will be held at the Blomgren Family Ranch up Sierra Highway, in Santa Clarita, at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.

This is the fifth year at the large, sprawling property which includes a riding ring and a Western town facade.

Among the annual stars of the riding demonstration is Dana Sachs riding Baby, the mule. However, Baby, 32, died in May so Sachs will perform on her new mount, Pacman.

Sachs was born without arms and rides holding the reins, and guiding her mount with her feet.

For many families Carousel Ranch also offers the families a social life where they bond over Santa Day or at the annual Horse Show where the children earn ribbons and trophies.

"For these children there is no soccer or ballet or gymnastics. We give them a place where their children do accomplish things they can show to friends and family," Tomey said. "It fills a void for the families."

Heart of the West raises the money that funds the riding program, said Tomey, of Canyon Country.

"This event is responsible for half of the operation budget," she said. "We know that the economy is down, but I'm confident we'll have a great event."

Heart of the West had humble beginnings in a restaurant in San Dimas when founders Becky Graham and Denise Tomey held their first fundraiser.

"We had 160 guests, we dragged every living human being we knew to the event," Tomey said. "We raised $12,000." The 2007 event raised $300,000.

Tomey said she feels fortunate that the Santa Clarita Valley has embraced Carousel Ranch.
"People have been very supportive, even in this economy, people have been doing what they can and we've made a lot of new friends," she said.

Heather Edwards, of Canyon Country, has joined Carousel Ranch to head up the Heart of the West fundraiser.

This is Edwards first time at the helm of the fundraiser.

"Jeanna Crawford (past chair of Heart of the West) was the one who made this event what it is," said Tomey. "It has taken Heather and an army of volunteers to do what Jeanna and her staff did."
Edwards said she is thrilled to be working at Carousel Ranch.

"This is a nonprofit where 93 cents on the dollar goes directly to the kids. We operate on an administrative budget of only 7 percent," she said. "When you see the children on the horses, it is so inspiring. Heart of the West shows why it is important to contribute to your community."

Tickets to Heart of the West are still available at the door.

"We won't turn anyone away," Tomey said.


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