Joy in giggles. I don’t think I have ever been to a birthday party where laughs and smiles between adults and their charges were more a focus than cupcakes. I don’t think I even saw one cup cake in the trash separated from the top after being smeared around someone’s mouth.
HAPPY 37TH BIRTHDAY to Halleck Creek Ranch!
Nearly every Saturday a respectful caravan of vehicles converge from, at times, all 7 Bay Area counties and drive along Halleck Creek to participate in what may be the most unique program in the country. Nicasio’s own Duane Irving, who sadly died in 2010, had been working at the National Park Service’s Morgan Horse Ranch when he became aware that horses could be a way to get kids into the natural environment. Along the way Joyce Goldfield began volunteering and they started focusing on the importance of getting kids with various physical and cognitive challenges outdoors. The program just took shape.
It has since grown to 45 weeks of riding for 250 participants on weekdays and Saturdays. Currently the age range is 3 to 76; however, about 80% of their riders are typically between the ages of 3 and 21.
Calm. This word really captured the day. When I got there everyone was sitting around calmly. Soon the second morning ride returned, calmly. Indeed, families had arrived as usual for their 9:00 a.m. ride knowing that for many kids their weeks revolve around these Saturday rides. The ride just might be more important than home churned ice cream.
Bread and Roses, Dick Miner host, provided perfect atmospheric music by Dick Bay on accordion and Peter Bellal on guitar. Dick and Peter of the Babushka Brothers band played lively blues with a sense of calm and even their spontaneous jam session with Dexter, one of the afternoon riders, was calm while being lively and spirited.
During the musician’s break people meandered over to tables covered with hamburgers, hot dogs, salads, lemonade, and a wide range of trimmings. Joyce and one of the kids in attendance slowly churned ice cream without anyone seeming to notice. However the option of root beer floats later brought on the closest thing to a rush that day. An amazing homemade cake, cookies, and cupcakes guaranteed a sugar high for all.
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Two dedicated staff members, Molly Scannell and Mesa Nordbye took over the mike and started with a quiz. How many total volunteer hours were clocked in the past year? The first guess was around 1300. Someone then quickly added another zero and got much closer to the 13,500 hours that were worth over $300,000. But what every volunteer there knows, the pay of these support people can’t be measured in dollars.
The donated horses too are priceless. Currently they have 11 horses, 6 below the desired target of 17. When horses are donated, often from local ranches, they are first taken on a trial basis. When a horse can no longer work they are given pasture and equine companionship for the rest of their natural lives. A brief glance at their eyes and their coats reveals that the horses are very well cared for.
Calmness pervaded the afternoon ride as well. The certified horse trainers saddled up the horses and then calmly stood with them until their turn to be mounted. Then they were calmly led to the mounting station appropriate to their impending rider. There were at least three, sometimes five or six, assistants to help each rider get safely mounted. Calmly the horse accepted their new rider and then calmly walked to a large open covered ring where they slowly walked until everyone was mounted and comfortable. Then calmly they walked out single file and on to the trail. I did not witness one horse trying to rush ahead or hang back. Calm and steady was their ethic. Calm and steady and caring.
Halleck Creek provides a wide range of activities throughout the year, most of which are listed on their website. They participated in the Human Race this past May with Claudia Johnson being the top finisher for their team. Claudia has been a program participant since she was 13 and now is Board Secretary. (Please see their website to learn more of their accomplishments.) They had three riders in the Marin County Fair who won 1st, 2nd and 3rd places; and many riders participated in Western Weekend. Campouts are amongst their many other activities. Needless to say, tuition (many are on scholarships) manages to cover about one-third of costs. Look for details about their fundraiser November 14th.
Having just gone to Marin County’s “Happiest Fair On Earth”, I think they have stiff competition for the Happiest Place On Earth.