Therapy of the Equine Kind

Patty Fuller
By Patty Fuller September 15, 2010 10:41

Patti Taylor-Welch with Missy

Patti Taylor-Welch’s post-career years have been anything but leisurely.

Her days are filled with feeding horses, fixing fences, shoveling manure, and helping physically or emotionally challenged children and adults learn about horses. At the same time, she recruits helpers, maintains a website, and is forever seeking funding to keep it all going.

The smile that shines when this energetic, determined 58-year-old talks about the Mounted Dream Center shows she’s just fine with life in her so-called retirement.

“When I add up all the hours, oh yeah, definitely this is a lot of work,” says Taylor-Welch on a recent sunny morning at the Sonora-area ranch. “But this is just wonderful. We’ve all become family.”

Several volunteers, also retired and now close friends, stand nearby nodding in agreement. A short distance away, three horses and a newly acquired pony named Krysti graze in a bright green pasture.

Taylor-Welch opened the nonprofit center three years ago. She and several dozen dedicated volunteers – ranging from teens to a woman nearing 80 – have since helped about 50 people with special needs experience the fun of horseback riding, and sense of accomplishment they may not have been able to gain otherwise.

The center, on six scenic acres off Jamestown Road, is itself a dream come true for Taylor-Welch.

Although a lifelong horse lover, she wasn’t able to own one until about 10 years ago. Raised in the Bay Area, she built successful careers in the semi-conductor and commercial arts fields. She also turned a small consulting firm, involving mask design for computer chip fabrication, into a $3 million enterprise with 20 employees. After two decades of “six-day weeks and 14-hour days,” she retired at age 47.

Her business successes could have easily paved the way for a comfortable retirement that allowed her to ride whenever she wanted. Her longtime goal, though, was to create a center for other horse lovers.

She and husband, Dennis Going, moved to their Tuolumne County property in 1997. A year later, she purchased two young Tennessee Walking horses that had already been well-handled, or people “imprinted,” as she puts it. She dedicated as much time as possible to the pair.Her vision for the Mounted Dream Center became clear after a woman asked if her very shy 8-year-old grandson could spend time at the ranch. “In four weeks, he just blossomed,”  recalls Taylor-Welch.

This experience led her to volunteer many hours over the next six months at a large Sacramento-area riding program that serves children with conditions ranging from cerebral palsy to fetal-alcohol-related disability.

She joined the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, a group dedicated to ensuring that therapeutic riding programs are run safely by well-trained staffs, and continued to network with other equestrians leading these programs. Mounted Dream Center opened on April 17, 2007.

It has since served about 50 riders, most between the ages of 4 and 23. Four or five students are enrolled at any given time in six-week blocks of weekly lessons that last about an hour. Cost is $50 per lesson, with a sliding scale available based on ability to pay.

Leading to the nearly spotless barn and saddling area is a smooth path allowing for easy wheelchair access. Near the freshly graded arena is a classroom where students learn about horse care and nearby, a flowered-filled garden area where they receive awards for their newfound equestrian abilities.

This welcoming place reflects Taylor-Welch’s attention to detail and safety and her knack for attracting volunteers, most of whom help once a week for two hours. And then there’s her marketing savvy: Her pitches have spurred businesses and individuals to sponsor horses and donate materials, labor and money. That work, she admits, is never-ending, especially during these tough economic times.

“I feel I’ve been the most persistent, pushy person,” she says of the fundraisers she’s organized and presentations she’s made to area service groups.

Center volunteers, though, describe Taylor-Welch and the small ranch as inspiring. In fact, the center won Sierra NonProfit Service’s 2010 Volunteer Champion Award.

Annika Kohler-Crowe, 19, with Krysti

“I get far more than I give,” says Judy Fallas, 60. Once a horse owner herself, she always expected to return to riding after she and husband Ted retired to Tuolumne County. That plan was cut short in 2004, when she had a heart transplant.

Fallas learned of the center through a newspaper story but didn’t know if her health would allow her to volunteer. She called Taylor-Welch anyway.

“I discovered I’m just fine, and that this has really helped with my strength and balance,” she says. “It’s been amazing.”

In addition to helping at the center and with its fundraisers, Fallas and her husband have contributed money to help cover costs of caring for Rex, one of the mellow resident horses. And because Ted worked for General Electric, that firm’s philanthropic foundation has also donated to the center.

Another active volunteer is Trudy Olesiuk, a retired Soulsbyville Elementary School teacher. She has worked with several emotionally and physically challenged children as they have learned how to groom and saddle a horse. She also leads horses as youngsters take their first ride. The way certain children brighten up around horses is amazing, Olesiuk says, noting one particularly withdrawn boy who now chatters away when he’s at the ranch.

The center has also helped other kids that Taylor-Welch first hadn’t expected to work with. Once a week, a group of four to six boys from a Calaveras County live-in home for juvenile offenders arrives to help with gardening, painting, or other upkeep. And during the school year, students from a Sonora High School special education program make weekly visits to help with ranch chores.

“This is a huge carrot for them,” says Kathie Danicourt, 58, a vocational technician with the Tuolumne County Workability I Program, and also a center volunteer. “Their progress in the classroom has completely evolved thanks to this. … They also learn hands-on skills and their self-worth develops.”

Danicourt, a horsewoman herself, says the people at the center keep her helping in any way she can. “The group of volunteers here is just dynamic,” she says.

Olesiuk agrees. Volunteering has revived her own longtime love of horses.

“I’m 62,” she says, adding with a proud grin, “and I just got my first horse.”

The Mounted Dream Center welcomes new volunteers. Training is provided, and prior experience with horses is not necessary. Contact Patti Taylor-Welch, (209) 533-8930, or visit online at mounteddreamcenter.org.

Copyright © 2010, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Patty Fuller
By Patty Fuller September 15, 2010 10:41
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