Rancho Guacaytay A special-needs rider gets some help mounting his horse.Carol Aiken Hanna

Gentle men with horses and a vision

Rancho Huacatay offers horseback riding for people with special needs

A wonderful idea came to fruition several years ago when a group of caballeros were riding their horses on a pilgrimage to the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

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It is spiritually poignant that the ideas tucked into the men’s heads would emerge as a realistic vision they all shared. And that’s exactly the way it happened.

Benjamin Guzman of Rancho Coralillos and Dr. Francisco Ayala, Rosarito veterinarian and owner of El Rodeo veterinary clinic, chatted at length with their friend, Omar Pérez, sharing their ideas for an equine therapy program.

They all had access to horses and Pérez was friends with a Catholic priest from La Gloria who was the founder of CANOA (Center of Attention for Children With Other Abilities). Father Hagan, long a fierce advocate for children with special needs, had residents at his home who would, they all believed, benefit greatly from such a program.

Equine therapy is a wonderful way for children stricken with cerebral palsy, paralysis, or any ailment that prevents them from walking, to experience the same thrill of being on horseback as their peers not inflicted with physical mobility problems.

In the beginning, Guzman took one of his horses to Father Hagan’s home in La Gloria. As needs grew and the popularity of the program escalated, the priest began to transport the children to Rancho Coralillos.

Soon, that still was not enough. The youngsters were elated and anxiously looked forward to “therapy time.” So Pérez decided to open the family’s ranch – Huacatay in the hills of Rosarito – so the equine therapy could be offered twice a month instead of just once.

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And it just so happened that Pérez had the perfect horse on his ranch. Chapito is a handsome, 24-year-old horse, small in stature and as gentle as they come. He never tires and never complains as giggly youngsters loll about on his back.

“The horse’s gait is identical to a human’s, and his body temperature is only one degree higher,” said Pérez, who also stressed that finding the proper horse demands that other certain criteria be met.

“First, the horse must be smaller than the usual riding horses. They also must possess a gentle disposition. Generally, the other prerequisite is that the horse is probably older and has years of good horse sense.”

“In most cases, we have the children lie down on the horse’s back because it gives them an equilibrium most natural to the one they have lost,” Pérez continued.

It was the a most perfect chance for mobility-deprived young people to experience the freedom, grace, and heightened sense of self-esteem that is quite synonymous with horseback riding.

A few years ago on a nondescript Wednesday in April, there was a special day at Rancho Huacatay, and not just for the young people.

As things always go, word of the program reached even more people who wanted to help. Through a mutual friend of Francisco Ayala and another veterinarian, Joaquin Villaseñor, long-time Rosarito resident Glen Larson had recently donated two of his Arabian horses – Kemo and Regal – together with their horse trailer, to the program.

Larson, one of the founders of the Give Some Life Foundation, was on hand with other foundation members to celebrate the program.

Echoes of delighted laughter constantly bounced off the hills of the Huacatay district as Chapito led the youngsters round and round the corral. Perhaps the most priceless was the look the youngsters had on their faces all day long. They were having fun and they were being funny. Their laughter was genuine and the smiles were wide.

As Father Hagan’s white van, loaded with young people and their wheelchairs, drove slowly down the dusty road, small hands could be seen from every available window. It may have been the end of a wonderful day, but they knew there would be more.

Touched by the events of the day, Larson decided right then and there to donate another van to Father Hagan.

So on the following Sunday another celebration took place. Sponsored by the equine therapy group and hosted by Pérez at his ranch, Larson and the Give Some Life Foundation were formally honored with commemorative plaques.

The equine therapy program boasts all kinds of volunteers – some ranchers, some United States citizens, but all have very large hearts. If you would like more information or would like to become part of this wonderful effort, you can call Benjamin Guzman at 664-636-23-40.

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