Are Happy Trails in Carousel Ranch's Future?
The Therapeutic Equestrian Nonprofit Suffers Setback, but Road to Self-Reliance isn't Out of Sight
March/April, 2005 - Issue #6
When it comes to decision-making, sometimes splitting the difference just doesn't seem fair. On January 12, the Santa Clarita City Council voted 3-1 in favor of allowing Carousel Ranch, a therapeutic equestrian group for disabled children, to continue their stay at their current location on Ravenhill Road off of Placerita Canyon. To riders and staff alike, this was very good news. After all, trying to relocate eight horses, an office and tons of equipment is quite a trial, especially when there's no place good to go.

However, this vote also discontinued the group's ability to use the private road around their site, meaning that the Carousel riders are now confined to working the horses on the property alone - no more jaunts up and down Ravenhill Road. What's upsetting to some is that the road is still utilized in a horse-riding capacity by other non-residents.

A little background on the situation is in order. In October 2004, the city's planning commission voted to extend the Ranch's temporary use permit for an additional year. But a handful of Ravenhill Road residents appealed this decision, claiming that the riders brought about too many safety and traffic issues, mainly personal liability. While Carousel Ranch has their own private arena on Ravenhill, staffers would often take the riders off the circular track and into the neighborhood to give the kids a change of scenery and routine. But Ravenhill Road is not city owned; it belongs to the Placerita Canyon homeowners. This means that if someone is injured on these streets, the residents can be sued. Heeding these concerns, the City Council upheld the nonprofit's permit, but confined them to their arena.

What's still bothering associates and friends of Carousel Ranch is that this restriction hasn't been levied on other non-residents. When Carousel Ranchers are taken through the private street, they are always hand led, travel at slow speeds and are never without helmets. The possibility of accidents is very low; much lower, in fact, then other riders who use the street. "[Ravenhill residents] are a lot safer with us riding on the street than any other rider. We have insurance, we have instructors, and we take extra precautions. We're extremely safe," explains Becky Graham, a founder of the organization.

One council member did not agree with the prevailing logic that some non-residents should be prohibited from riding on the street while others were not. "I voted against the provision that limited the students to the arena and allowed others to utilize the street. I can't reconcile in my own mind how any one group can use the street and another cannot," said Mayor Cameron Smyth.

Smyth's support was not enough, even though it seems that the majority of Ravenhill residents enjoy having Carousel Ranch nearby. "Ninety percent of the neighbors are very helpful. We have so many good friends on this block," states Graham, who added that during the recent rain many residents went above and beyond to assist them. Debbie Tos-Colombo, who lives a few houses down from the ranch, says, "I've really enjoyed having them here. It humbles me to have seen these children ride horses." Ken Carter, another neighbor added, "I don't see a problem with the kids riding on the street at all. We're an equestrian street! Carousel Ranch does a fantastic job protecting these kids. I think the motorcycle riders and kids in their golf carts are more at risk. I like seeing the kids going up and down the road; it makes them happy and it makes me happy."

Carousel Ranch founders Denise Tomey and Graham are trying to move past the decision, focusing now on dissipating the anger parents and friends are feeling. "I'm reluctant to take a stand because the City of Santa Clarita has always been so good to us. The theory behind [the decision] makes no sense [to us] but I don't think the council saw it that way; they were just trying to come up with an amicable solution. We just want to go back to doing what we love doing - helping children. The kids will still benefit - we're going to be fine," stated Tomey.

Tracy Gallegos, whose son Justin is a rider at Carousel Ranch, is still frustrated. "Our kids really look forward to riding on the trails, that's their fun. It's hard for a parent with a child with special needs because they can't play sports like baseball or soccer, so they rides horses, and now some of that has been taken away from them," she says.

Maybe not for long. Members of the Carousel Ranch family have long yearned for a place of their own to call home, and they may have just found it. A piece of property has become available on Sierra Highway, and while it needs some work, board members believe that they've found the future, permanent home of Carousel Ranch. A deposit on the land has already been made, and a preliminary discussion has begun as to how trails and an arena can be incorporated into the space. "These kids want to be out on the trails because they want to be like everyone else - because they are like everyone else," says Graham. The property isn't cheap, but with the help of the community, these special children should soon have trails to call their very own.

On April 17, Carousel Ranch will be hosting their first annual "Day at the Races" fundraiser at the lovely Rancho Temescal. Students, local politicos, community supporters and more will "mock" race, with spectators betting on who will cross the finish line first. All the fun of an old-time fair will be had, with food, games, old-fashioned pictures and more. Tickets are an affordable $25, and include admission and lunch.

And in August, Carousel will again hold their "Heart of the West" dinner and auction at the Blomgren estate, coincidentally located across from the property the Ranch hopes to purchase. Auction items are already being solicited (call 296-7716 to donate), and interested guests can have their names put on a contact list to be called when tickets become available.

The Carousel Ranch family is hoping that these two fundraisers will make their dreams of having a well-developed, permanent home a reality. More information on these kid-friendly events can be found at or by calling the Ranch's office.

In the end, whether one views the city council's decision as Solomon-esque or a poor attempt at compromise, one thing is certain: Everyone involved wants to see Carousel Ranch find happy trails and to continue serving their physically and mentally disabled clients.


Carousel Ranch, established in 1997, is dedicated to providing physical therapy and recreational programs for physically and mentally disabled children. Apart from the physical benefits, such as building balance and increasing coordination and control, the children also gain confidence and self-esteem. Once the kids get on the back of a horse their disability disappears and they are taken into a new world - one of independence, one where they can achieve anything. If you'd like to volunteer or make a donation, please call 252-7333.
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