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‘Heart of the West’ rides to success

Event raises nearly $200,000 and exceeds expectations

Posted: September 6, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 6, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Becky Graham and Madison Drouin, 2, ride Annabelle during the children’s demonstration at the 16th annual ‘Heart of the West’ fundraiser at the Agua Dulce Airport. Becky Graham and Madison Drouin, 2, ride Annabelle during the children’s demonstration at the 16th annual ‘Heart of the West’ fundraiser at the Agua Dulce Airport.
Becky Graham and Madison Drouin, 2, ride Annabelle during the children’s demonstration at the 16th annual ‘Heart of the West’ fundraiser at the Agua Dulce Airport.

There is something truly magical about a child on the back of a horse — especially when the horse offers four strong legs and a big heart to a child who needs a special friend.

Attendees at the 16th annual ‘Heart of The West’ at the Agua Dulce Airport on Saturday, Aug. 25 offered up a great outpouring of affection and support for the work of Carousel Therapeutic Riding Ranch.

Denise Tomey, co-founder and executive director of Carousel Ranch, said more than 400 people attended the event that featured the children’s riding demonstration, live and silent auctions, dancing and casino games.

The event also raised nearly $200,000 for the Agua Dulce nonprofit which provides therapy on horseback to more than 100 children a week with a variety of mental and physical disabilities.

As the evening started, the guests watched in rapt attention at the “miracles on horseback” performed by five of the clients assisted by Carousel Ranch.

Especially heartwarming were the equine skills of Derek Robinson, 17, and with Asperger’s syndrome.

Robinson displayed confidence while riding the Belgian mare, Callie.

According to his trainer, Eileen Johnstone; his riding has developed life skills that have replaced his feelings of “I can’t” with “I can.”

Ayla Greenwald, 5, was born with cerebral palsy and developmental delays. Yet her performance on Annabelle, the Fjord pony, had guests in tears.

Then, P.J. Bryant, 6, and Jaret Wilson, 5, performed as a duo on Banner, impressing the audience with their accomplishments.

The crowd was overwhelmed with tiny, 2-year-old Madison Drouin, blind and developmentally delayed who in the safe arms of Carousel Ranch program director Becky Graham performed vaults and spins to the soaring music of Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up.”

“Lessons at Carousel Ranch are adapted to each child,” Graham said.

After the riding demonstrations, other parents also had tears in their eyes.

Brent and Tracy Gallegos, parents of Justin Gallegos, 14, were thrilled to see another generation of children on horseback.

“For kids like Justin, they can’t play soccer, or tennis or run,” said his mother, Tracy Gallegos. “But on the back of a horse, they can be like any other children.”

When asked what the ranch needs each year, Tomey said sponsors are always needed for horses at $3,500 and riders for $1,500 for a year.

“People can sponsor a horse for a month, or a rider for just a few lessons,” said Tomey. “Any amount of donations are welcome; you don’t have to make a long-term commitment.”

After the riding demonstrations, the guests enjoyed dinner, followed by the live auction. The bidding was brisk for the nearly 400 items donated by individuals and businesses in the Santa Clarita Valley — from first class trips to exotic locations, wine, furniture, artwork, jewelry, Dodgers and Clippers tickets, health club memberships and goodie bags of all kinds.

Among the fun and unique items offered in the live auction were an exclusive Transformers Experience at Universal Studio donated by Shelley and G. Marshall Hann, and a weekend rental of a $240,000 20121 Aston Martin Rapide, a 4-door coupe donated by Galpin Aston Martin. Myles McNamara from Comfort Keepers purchased the rights to name the “jail” house at Carousel Ranch for $800.

Among the evening’s high-ticket auction items was an 18-day trip for four people to Hong Kong and Cebu which fetched $6,500 and seven days in the French countryside at a luxury villa — picked up for a mere $2,500.

Julie Benson, vice president public relations of Princess Cruises, represented the Princess Cruises Community Foundation, the presenting sponsor of the event.

To sweeten the exclusive Princess Cruises 14-day Hawaiian Islands Cruise offered for auction, Benson added a variety of extra incentives during the bidding to the package including dinner with the captain, limousine service from and to the ship, a mini suite and a personal visit with the captain on the bridge. As a result, three were sold for $5,000 each.

“We’ve been a Heart of the West sponsor since 2008 and it’s incredibly gratifying to know that our support helps Carousel Ranch provide such important and amazing programming for children in our community,” Benson said. “This event truly touches all the guests who attend, because we can directly see some of the results of their work during the children’s riding program, always a highlight of the evening.

During the ‘Fund a Need’ portion of the live auction, an anonymous couple pledged at the $5,000 level, twice, for a total of $10,000. Other donors each gave $2,500 and dozens more pledged at the $1,500, $500, $200 and $100 levels raising more $37,500 in just a few minutes.

A highlight of the evening was the auction of a 10-week-old Golden Retriever puppy that ignited a bidding war — ending in a $1,500 winning bid. The puppy’s new owners, Omar and Cindy Silingardi of Saugus, walked away with the sleepy, fuzzy pooch and were too excited to think of a name immediately.

After the auction guests took to the dance floor and earned raffle tickets at the casino night gaming tables.

Heart of the West, the brainchild of Jeanna Crawford who created the event and successfully ran it for many years, said it has become one of the premiere events of the SCV.

“It’s nice to see my first born doing well,” Crawford said. “It’s wonderful to come back and know its roots are now so strong.”

For information about donations, sponsorships or volunteer opportunities visit or call 661-268-8010.


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