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Traveling highway 8 between Sonoyta and Puerto Peñasco, a large white spread on the west side of the road displays the remnants of Pancho Villa RV park. A small, well-worn sign on the other side of the road reads “Agua Zarca,.” What few may be aware of is that once a week (and soon to be twice) the turn-off at Agua Zarca leads to an afternoon of strengthened spirits for a number of local lower-income children who take part in the equine therapy endeavor of Aaron and Claudia Perez of Club Equestre Corceles de Peñasco, A.C. I sure didn’t know until I received an enthusiastic call from Betty Majors of the local rental agency RPR Mexico, who had just made her first trip out to the ranch and, along with Claudia, is already planning a Nov. 13th fundraising raffle for the program. (Raffle tickets will be 100 pesos and the entire community is invited to attend, beginning around 5 p.m. at the ranch. All proceeds will be for the equine therapy program).
The drive to Aaron and Claudia’s equine therapy ring is an exciting journey over washboard and soft sand across 2½ miles before reaching a large gate heading into the 100 hectare ranch. Parents and family members of 12 local children, and one older adult, gladly make the adventuresome trek out to the ranch once a week where Aaron and Claudia, accompanied by their own children and two very dedicated volunteers (Cela and Hilda) enthusiastically welcome the young riders who beam upon first glance of the horses. A couple of students from CIMA also recently joined up as volunteers, encouraged with the possibility of receiving extra points at school for their social service.
Leaning against the sturdy weathered posts firmly planted in the ground, Aaron humbly details how he and his family placed each of the large posts themselves and spent time building the large riding ring – complete with lights – after moving their horses to the ranch about three years ago. Prior to that, they had offered riding lessons and individual equine therapy sessions in the area of Lomas Campestres. Striding along to the far side of the ring, he points to one of their most recent achievements – a small platform with steps on one side and a ramp on the other, “for wheelchairs” he states, – which places young riders at the perfect level to ease onto the sturdy steeds.
About four hundred yards or so from the ring stands an iron stable-like structure with clean ample pens for the Perez family’s magnificent horses, along with a boarder or two. Three of the family horses are used principally for the equine therapy sessions, though the family frequently participates in city parades and rides. Earlier Betty had explained she aims to help the ranch by getting shade covers to go over the entire stable structure, which will certainly offer a welcome respite from the desert sun.
After a quick visit to the impressive tack room as the sun begins to set, Aaron glances back to the ring where his wife, daughter, and eldest son are finishing the last 20 minute therapy session of the day. The rider, an older man, is eased off the patient horse and back into his wheelchair before heading down the new iron ramp next to the ring.
As we walk back to where we’ll meet up with Claudia, Aaron greets one of the mothers who has faithfully brought her daughter to the equine therapy sessions each Thursday since about December. Both she and her daughter are beaming. “I’d like you to talk about what this experience has been like,” he invites the mom into the conversation. “I can’t say enough!”, she bursts. “The changes I’ve seen in my daughter, who still wears a protective helmet on a daily basis so she won’t hurt herself, have been amazing! It may seem like small things to many people, but the things she’s done since she started coming to (equine) therapy is like getting a university degree,” she gushes. “It doesn’t matter how hot it is,” alluding to the fact August had just about taken its toll on all of us, “…or how cold, we will be here every week!”
The young rider, whose eyes continuously dart back to the now riderless horse Bingo being led around the ring, is one of four children with special needs that are actually sponsored to take part in the program by Aaron and Claudia themselves. Eight other children are sponsored by local companies and/or individuals at 2000 pesos a month, and there is a current wait list with an additional 8 children. Through an agreement with the local city administration, sponsors of children taking part in the equine-therapy program can receive tax-deductible receipts for their contributions. Many sponsors, Claudia tells me later, can only help with a part and so one child may have up to 4 sponsors (or more). As a Civil Association, their goal is to be able to ultimately provide tax-deductible receipts and therefore receive sponsorship funds and donations directly. Betty notes that RPR has already come on board to sponsor one child completely and yes, of course, additional sponsors are always welcome!
The sun has gone down and Claudia dusts off her jeans as we begin to chat; bright eyes sparkle just below the brim of her straw cowboy hat as she begins to retell how she and Aaron, along with all their kids, became involved in equine therapy about 8 years ago. Claudia ecstatically fills the air with details, barely finding time between memories to breathe:
RockyPoint360: How did you start, or what led to your interest in equine therapy?
Claudia: Really, Aaron and I are both from horse families. I’ve been riding since I was a baby, my entire life! My father rides and is the kind that marches, dances, etc. so it’s something we like, but it’s also a passion for horses. My sister also has a riding school in Hermosillo; in fact, there are nine of us siblings and all of us have horses. Aaron and his family have always had a ranch here in Puerto Peñasco; it’s been in his family since he was little. His father is 75 years old and is truly a ranch man, still up on the tractor. So, it’s a passion for horses more than anything else, and our children have been riding since they were little.
We started teaching because we wanted our children to learn how to ride. When I arrived here in Peñasco about 17 years ago, it seemed sad to me to have a life without horses, so we got our first horse here about 15 years ago – that one (she nods over to the ring), Bingo. He’s a stellar horse, he marches, blows kisses, dances, and he’s perfect for equine therapy and for working with children.
So, based on our love of horses and showing our own children how to ride, a friend of ours who had a child with special needs came to us. I already knew about equine therapy because in La Montaña (school for children with special needs), we have a friend who went to a course quite some time ago. She knew I did riding lessons and began to tell me, “you need to go to the courses with me.” She gave me a book, which I read, and since we had a friend with a child with special needs, we decided to begin to do therapy sessions with him. Still, it was just empirical as I had only read the book, and it was just to help. This was about 8 or 10 years ago. So then, another two children he knew started with us; we were doing it knowing we were not specifically trained at the time, and never charged; but, that’s how we started.
About three years ago we moved over here from Lomas Campestres, and… it’s funny how life is. I was invited to go to an event in the malecón where a lot of donations were being presented to the disabled community, including a van for children. I happened to arrive late and there was nowhere else to sit, except to stand in an area with all the children with special needs, so I stood there. It was really curious because my friends were on the other side and there I was, among all the children with special needs, and I realized I was there for some reason. I met a woman (Maggie), who is the mother of Alejandra – a very special girl with many needs; I met her through the “work of God” if you’d like to say. After talking with her, this was about 2½ years ago, she started to come, and then Miranda (another girl who just left) started – again it was just as friends and we worked with them for about a year.
We have been more formally working with a group since just about this year, or rather that is when we began to look for sponsors, etc. The reason is because we started using more horses; at the beginning we had two children who used the same horse, and we had a riding school (Club Equestre Corceles del Desierto, A.C.). After the training, we decided to really do this.
Equine therapy requires a minimum of four people to make sure a child is safe. One guides the horse and is just in charge of the horse; another is the therapist who normally rides with the child, for children with severe cases someone has to ride with them; there also have to be two people as reinforcement that go on either side of the child’s knees, just in case of any incident. The horses are appropriate for this type of therapy, but they’re still animals and so we need to be prepared and aware of working as a team in the event an incident were to occur.
Aaron and I, along with the girls, attended training courses first in Queretaro and then in Guadalajara. We train the volunteers here; it’s an agreement that’s done as a team – “you’re here for the child’s safety,” – the person who goes on the right side of the horse must always keep the child to the left, the therapist goes below (when not riding with the child) on the left side. A lot of help is needed because the work can be tiring; they (Cela and Hilda) normally help me, and the whole family, though sometimes my kids get exasperated – but now that they’ll also receive extra points at school they’ve invited some of their friends.
RockyPoint360: What is it that you’re planning for November 13th?
Claudia: It’s an event that will be here, at the ranch. We begin with the therapy sessions at 5 p.m., which is about an hour and a half, and then around 6 p.m. we’re going to start giving out raffle prizes. The first prize is for a family stay on the beach, through Betty and RPR, plus there will be gas vouchers, lunch and dinner certificates, plus certificates for breakfasts, jewelry, and other gifts that will all be part of the raffle prizes. It is of course the therapy, plus inviting everyone who buys a ticket to come out to the ranch. Plus, many of the children’s mothers are going to prepare traditional Mexican dishes, which will be free for all who have bought raffle tickets and are helping out with the equine therapy program. The tickets will be 100 pesos, and 100% is for these children – nothing goes to expenses.
RockyPoint360: How are you getting the raffle prizes?
Betty Majors: We’ve volunteered a condo, and I’ve spoken with a couple other people already. We’d like to invite restaurants to do gift certificates for an amount, not just two people, so that the entire family can go. This is about family. We will have other prizes; there will be gift certificates and gift cards. We don’t know how many gifts yet, but there will be numerous prizes. You don’t have to be present to win, but everyone is invited to come. I think if people come and see, they will really understand [the program].
Claudia: It’s not something really big, but we’re thinking of it more as a type of gratitude for the people who buy tickets and are helping the equine therapy program. However, we’ve got equipment to help with sound and enliven the event a bit, plus the food!
What: Equine Therapy Fundraiser
When: Nov. 13th 5 p.m.
Where: Perez ranch (turn off at Agua Zarca off Highway 8), about 2 – 3 miles east off Highway 8
Raffle tickets: 100 pesos (Will be available soon – spots to be announced)
To sponsor a child in Aaron and Claudia’s equine therapy program, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information. Sponsorship is 2000 pesos monthly (approximately $160 US) and tax-deductible receipts (for Mexican tax purposes) are available.