Valenti Foundation & Taste Of Rancho Santa Fe 2015

By | Blog, Facebook | No Comments


Valenti FoundationIt is with great pleasure that I announce Valenti Foundation has elected to serve as the lead sponsor of the Rancho Santa Fe Rotary fundraising event, “Taste of Rancho Santa Fe”, that will be held on October 11, 2015 from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm at the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe located at 5951 Linea del Cielo in Rancho Santa Fe.

This event provides a unique opportunity to sample gourmet foods from renowned local restaurants and indulge in approximately 100 wine tastings from award-winning vineyards, while at the same time supporting a variety of local charitable organizations. Significant highlights of the event include tours of the extensive venue grounds, live entertainment, silent auction and opportunity drawing.

I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to read this communication and for your support. Please visit, click on the Donate button to make a contribution big or small. All major credit cards will be accepted.

As a Rotary International Paul Harris fellow, I personally would like to invite you to participate in this event as a sponsor to help further the mission of the Rancho Santa Fe Rotary Club. Your sponsorship will ensure the success of the “Taste of Rancho Santa Fe” and advance the philanthropic outreach necessary to support organizations in need of our support.

The Rancho Santa Fe Rotary Club continues to live up to its motto of “Service Above Self” through a wide variety of activities within Rancho Santa Fe and surrounding communities. Founded in 1959, the Rancho Santa Fe Rotary Club has dedicated over 50 years of service to fulfilling the needs non-profit organizations.

The funds raised at this event will be benefit multiple charitable organizations including: Miracle Babies; Kids Kingdom Orphanage, International Relief Teams; Just in Time, The Pendleton Cottages Project; The San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum and The Rotary Foundation; The Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society and Community Center.

I am available to answer your questions at any time. My contact information is via email and my personal mobile phone number is (619) 997-9239. I look forward to hearing from you and hope you can help us.

Kindest regards,

Irene Valenti
Valenti Foundation

10-Hot Weather Horse Care Tips:

By | Facebook | No Comments

10 Hot Weather Horse Care Tips

Make sure your horse has plenty of fresh, cool water during the hot summer months.

Photo: iStock

Summer is a great time to enjoy your horse, but summer heat can be dangerous for horses, resulting in dehydration, lethargy, and general malaise. Severe heat stress can cause diarrhea, or even colic.

In a release issued June 12, Janet Johnston, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, ACVS, an emergency critical care veterinarian at University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s New Bolton Center, offers the following tips to help keep your horse healthy and cool as we approach the first day of summer:

1. Choose cooler turnout times. If your horse has a stall, but is turned out for part of the day, provide turnout during the cooler hours. Overnight is ideal, but if that’s not possible, have the horse go outside as early as possible during the day. Remember, the summer heat can also take a toll on the quality of your pasture. You might need to provide additional feed as the grass becomes sparse to maintain proper body condition and energy.

2. Provide shade. If your horse lives outdoors or if he must be outside during the day, provide relief from the sun. A run-in shed is best. Trees are a source of shade, but as the sun moves, so will the shade; ensure that, regardless of the time of day, the trees are offering shade.

3. Move the air. Fans are a great way to help keep the air moving in the barn, but use them wisely. Always ensure that your horse can’t get a hold of cords and plugs.

4. Mist your horse. If you are fortunate enough to have a misting system for your horse, use it. As moisture is absorbed from your horse’s skin, it will take away some of the heat. Frequent mistings are far more effective than a single dousing with a hose.

5. Provide fresh, cool water and an electrolyte source. Make sure your horse has plenty of fresh, cool water. A bucket hanging on a pasture fence will get warm and the water will no longer be appealing. Left long enough, the water will also become stagnant and unhealthy. If you are providing clean, cool water and your horse doesn’t seem to be drinking, then encourage it by providing a salt block, or even by misting hay with salt water. If your horse is sweating a great deal, water laced with electrolytes can help keep its body in balance. Whenever you offer electrolytes, however, be sure to offer a second source of fresh water, as well. Not all horses will drink electrolyte-laced water, so providing a source of water without them will ensure your horse keeps drinking. Also, too many electrolytes can be harmful.

6. Slow down the work. Don’t think that because your horse has been working intensely at 1:00 p.m. every day that it can take the heat when the temperature tops 90°F. If you have to work your horse in the heat, lighten the work or spread it out over a couple of short sessions. This is especially important when the humidity is high, contributing to the poor quality of the air your horse is breathing. Cool your horse down slowly, and offer frequent sips of cool water. Take the tack off as soon as you’re done and sponge the horse off again with cool water.

7. Stick to a schedule. Within the parameters of keeping him cool, try to stay as close as possible to his normal schedule. Too much change at one time can be an invitation for colic.

Consider using a fly sheet to help protect white or gray horses from sunburn.

Photo: Thinkstock

8. Avoid sunburn.Horses, especially white horses, can suffer from sunburn. Even those with white socks and blazes, pink noses, or hairless patches from scarring can be susceptible. Using a fly scrim can help. In addition, applying sunblock to small, particularly vulnerable areas can be effective. Staying out of the sun’s harmful rays will, of course, be best. (Also be aware: If a horse has excessive sunburn it could indicate a rare, underlying liver disease.)

9. Clip horses with longer hair coats. Clipping is important, especially for those with pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID, or Cushing’s disease). While some coat can provide protection from the sun and insulation, a long, thick coat tends to hold heat and makes it difficult for the horse to cool down. Be careful not to clip the hair too close, however, as it provides some protection from damaging rays.

10. Know your horse and signs of heat stroke. Heat stroke can happen anytime your horse is exposed to excessive heat that his body cannot handle. Heatstroke can happen if exercising in hot conditions, but be aware that it can also happen if standing in a hot stall or trailer.

You should know your horse’s normal temperature, heart, and respiratory rates. To find the heart rate of a horse, simply find a pulse and count the beats for 15 seconds, then multiply that number by four, which will give the beats per minute. Count the breaths per minute in a similar way.

Signs of heat stroke can include:

  • An elevated heart rate that does not return to normal in a reasonable period of time;
  • Excessive sweating or lack of sweating;
  • Temperature that persists above 103°F;
  • Depression and/or lethargy; and
  • Signs of dehydration: dry mucous membranes, poor capillary refill, and poor skin turgor.

If you are concerned that your horse is suffering from heat stroke, call your veterinarian immediately and get your horse into a cooler environment.




Originally Published:

Tens of thousands will attend opening day at Del Mar

By | Facebook | No Comments

DEL MAR (CNS) – The 76th season of thoroughbred racing at the Del Mar Racetrack is scheduled to begin Thursday, led off by the annual Opening Day Hats Contest.

More than $5,000 in prizes are up for grabs in the hats contest, which is free to enter and begins at 11:30 a.m. at the Plaza de Mexico. Judging will take place in the categories of Most Glamorous, Best Racing Theme, Funniest/Most Outrageous, Best Fascinator and Flowers/All Others.

The grand prize winner will receive a Harrah’s Resort Southern California Luxury Resort Escape with two night stay in a hotel suite, $200 meal credit and $200 spa credit.

Category winners will get $300 and $100 Studio Savvy gift certificate. The second place prize is $200 and third place $100.

The 40-day racing season will feature a new dirt track that replaces a synthetic surface that was in place for eight years.

According to the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, about 31,000 tons of dirt known as El Segundo sand — drawn from the El Segundo area near Los Angeles International Airport — was placed on the one-mile oval. The same material is also used at Santa Anita.

The dirt track will also require less water than the former surface, according to the DMTC.

The dirt oval has already been tested by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. The champion horse is working out at Del Mar in preparation for an Aug. 2 run at Monmouth Park in New Jersey, but is not expected to race locally.

As usual, the highlight of the Del Mar season will be the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic — scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 22. The day will also include the $250,000 Pat O’Brien Stakes and $250,000 Del Mar Handicap.

The Opening Day featured race is the $100,000 Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-old’s, which will be run on the one-mile turf track.

The racetrack’s summer concert series is scheduled to begin Friday, with the Wallflowers. Eleven concerts are planned during the racing season on Fridays and Saturdays.

Opening Day admission is $10 for the Stretch Run and $20 for the clubhouse — above the usual $6 and $10, respectively. Reserved seating will cost $25 on Opening Day.

For patrons who want to take public transportation, the North County Transit District’s Coaster train will stop at the Solana Beach station.

Passengers can then board shuttle buses for the ride to the racetrack.

Because of the large crowds that are expected, passengers are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance, either online or on smartphones.

The NCTD’s promotional “Pony Express” tickets are not valid on Opening Day.

Amtrak will also stop at Solana Beach during the racing season, which runs Wednesdays through Sundays until Sept. 7.

Del Mar

The Del Mar track has replaced its Polytrack surface with El Segundo dirt.

(Benoit Photo)



Originally Published:



How do horses help kids with emotional and behavioral issues?

By | Facebook | No Comments

How do Horses Help Kids with Emotional and Behavioral Issues?

Horses Help Kids with Emotional and Behavioral Issues

Kids with emotional and behavioral issues can be difficult to work with. Most of them are slow to trust adults, and may be unwilling to trust anyone at all. In addition, if the emotional or behavioral issues are caused by abuse, the child could be angry and prone to emotional outbursts. Cognitive therapy that includes an equine assisted program can be of great benefit to this type of person.

There are several aspects of cognitive/equine assisted therapy that work well with kids who have emotional and behavioral issues. One of the simplest aspects is diversion. When a young person is focused on grooming, feeding, or exercising a horse, his focus is no longer on his own issues and problems. Far from being a “means of escape”, caring for the horse provides an often-needed respite for the person’s emotions and intellect. It can actually help the person feel refreshed and energized because the mind has been allowed to “rest” from its current problems.

In order to properly care for a horse, new skills have to be developed. The process of developing these skills can help kids who are especially impatient, anxious, or have low self-confidence. Open communication between counselor and client is important when the client is learning new skills. The young person is reassured that learning these skills takes time, and it’s ok if he doesn’t get things right the first time. Skill development gives the young person a safe environment in which to make mistakes. He or she may have a parent or sibling who’s very critical and unforgiving of mistakes, so equine therapy sessions can be an excellent tool for counteracting the criticism. Feelings of fear, frustration, or anxiety can be validated by the therapist, teaching the young person that these feelings are healthy while he’s developing appropriate coping mechanisms. As the young person gets better and better at caring for the horse, his confidence often increases. Some of the skills, like learning to walk or tack a horse, can be learned fairly quickly and give the young person an immediate (albeit small) taste of success. This gives the therapist a tangible foundation upon which to build.

The open communication that’s needed when learning new skills enables the therapist to “teach by example” as he communicates with his client. The young person will likely get frustrated, giving the therapist an opportunity to discuss – and model – appropriate ways to express emotions. The communication between the therapist and horse professional can provide this same kind of example as well. The young person may live in an environment where people yell when they disagree. During equine assisted therapy, the therapist and horse professional could provide real-life evidence that it’s possible (and more productive) for people to talk instead of yell.

Spending an entire day at an equine assisted program will require some planning and scheduling, which is another benefit of this type of therapy. Many kids who have emotional and behavioral issues struggle with scheduling activities. For some, they simply don’t like the structure; they want to do what they want, when they want. Scheduling tasks can help them begin to learn the benefit of setting and sticking to a schedule. For other kids, they like schedules but get very upset when the schedule is changed. Caring for an animal – even for a day – requires some flexibility. Animals can be unpredictable; if your horse makes a quick get-a-way through an open gate, your entire schedule has to be rearranged. Setting a schedule for the day can teach a young person how to set a schedule but also how to keep realistic expectations and how to rearrange a schedule when things don’t go the way you’d planned.

A child’s responses to the horses can also provide excellent insight into the child’s opinions of self and of others, especially authority figures.

Equine assisted therapy offers kids with emotional and behavioral issues a safe environment in which to work through issues of fear, anxiety, self-doubt, and poor communication. By teaching the child how to work with and communicate with the horse, the therapist will be indirectly teaching the child how to apply these same skills in inter-personal relationships.

Originally Published:

7 foods to boost your moods naturally

By | Facebook | No Comments

Happy, angry, excited, frustrated and anxious are just some of the different moods and emotions we can have throughout the day. Some things in life bring us joy, others bring us much sadness.

Energetic Lady

But sometimes, for days on end, we feel quite down without even knowing why. Many things can affect our mood like a promotion at work, stubbing your toe, or even spilling your morning coffee on the drive in. As we interact with so many things and people around us, we can have a variety of mood changes even in one day. But there’s also another major factor that can fuel our mood, and it also fuels our bodies: Food.

Have you ever considered eating to improve mood? Well, food can play a large part in how we are feeling. There are foods to combat stress, foods dealing with sadness, foods to boost mood and even foods that help depression. You can actually eat yourself to a better, happier self. And who doesn’t enjoy eating? So if you’ve been down in the dumps lately and are looking for a diet to improve mood, look no further than these 7 items.

Foods that boost your mood

When it comes to eating to improve mood, a variety of food options are available making a diet to improve mood quite possible. Here are the best foods that improve your mood.

1. TeaTea has been a staple in many cultures for centuries. With so many varieties, it’s easy to find one to love. Tea is also a great food that boosts moodThe Journal of Nutrition noted that theanine – an amino acid found in most teas – works along with caffeine to promote alertness and improve focus. Furthermore, scientists at Unilever studied the effects of tea and concluded that drinking black tea could improve mood as well as enhance creative thinking.

2. Fish: Omega-3s, particularly found in fish, have been renowned for their ability to improve brain function. This also makes fish one of the best foods to improve mood. Omega-3s affect our dopamine and serotonin levels – hormones which makes us happy and relaxed. If you’re looking for foods to deal with depression, also look no further than fish. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatryreported that eating DHA and EPA – fatty acids found in fish – could help support health mood balance. These findings were again found in a Canadian study of individuals with mood issues who consumed EPA and DHA.

Drench your body in the fountain of energy

If you feel tired and exhausted all the time, you will be glad to know American scientists have tracked down an incredible energy boosting secret that the Russians were hiding for decades.

More than a hundred clinical studies prove this fountain of energy can help you get the energy you need for all your day-time and night-time activities.

Unlike instant energy stimulants, or pick-me-ups like coffee that are just temporary solutions, this breakthrough can activate the energy production from within your cells, giving you real energy for the long haul.

3. Chocolate: Just looking at chocolate can excite people as it is a feel-good guilty pleasure for many. No need for guilt! But skip the milk chocolate kind as it’s not considered a food to boost mood. Choose darker the chocolate and eat happy.

The Nestle Research Center in Switzerland uncovered that enjoying a piece of dark chocolate every day was one of the top foods to combat stress. Dark chocolate, unlike milk or white chocolate, contains antioxidants. You only need about 1.4 ounces of the dark stuff to combat stress. So go ahead and indulge in a bite of dark chocolate a day; you can feel good about enjoying this treat as it’s part of the foods to combat stress.

4. Coconut: This tropical fruit is amazing as a food to boost mood. Also as a food to combat stress, similar to fish, health-benefits-of-coconut-watercoconut has the ability to lower blood pressure. When we become stressed or anxious, our blood pressure can go up.

In studies, participants who just smelled coconut had a reduction in their blood pressure. Its ability to reduce stress also makes coconuts great foods that deal with depression as well. Their scent is enticing and in turn elevates our mood. Maybe they remind you of a warmer, calmer place? Whatever the case, coconuts are definitely instant mood boosting foods.

5. Saffron: Why not spice up your diet to improve mood with some saffron? In traditional Persian medicine saffron has been noted as part of the foods to deal with depression. In small controlled trials, saffron performed well in treating mild to moderate depression. But keep in mind saffron does come at quite the price, so if you do plan on incorporating it within your diet to improve mood, use it sparingly!

6. Water: It may seem so simple because our bodies require water to function, but it goes beyond that as drinking plenty of water also improves our mood. When we are hydrated our body can function properly but even a small decrease in hydration – just 1 percent – can cause a big difference in our mood.

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition observed how water intake could affect mood on 25 women. These women were either properly hydrated or mildly dehydrated, and their mood and cognitive abilities were then tested. On the mental tests, the hydrated women and dehydrated women performed about the same, but among the dehydrated group – they only had a decrease in hydration of 1 percent – they experienced headaches, fatigue and low mood.

When men were tested in the same manner, with results published in the British Journal of Nutrition, the men had greater difficulty performing the mental tests, and experienced greater anxiety and frustration. This just goes to show that drinking enough water is part of a diet to improve mood.

Sticking to the rule of eight glasses a day is a good option to stay hydrated. Even if you don’t necessarily feel thirsty, it’s important to keep hydrated. Remember even the slight decrease in hydration is enough to alter your mood. Takeaway: Your diet to improve mood should consist of plenty of water!

7. Carbohydrates: Most people are afraid of the word carbohydrates, or carbs, because they believe they will
cause weight gain. Although this may be true if consumed in high quantities or if overly processed, carbs don’t have to be the enemy and are great foods when dealing with sadness. Stick with whole wheat or whole grain carbs that have not been processed.

In a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers followed participants for a year who consumed a low-carb diet. These individuals experienced more cases of depression, anxiety and anger in comparison to an alternative group which enjoy a low-fat, high-carb diet. Researchers concluded that carbs can promote serotonin, and that an ongoing a low-carb diet could negatively impact mood. So make sure your diet to improve mood does contain carbohydrates; just ensure they are the healthy kind!

Diet for boosting our mood

These 7 foods are a great way to put together a diet to improve mood. By including these foods to improve mood in your everyday life, you can achieve mood-boosting benefits and feel like a better you. There are many factors that can impact our mood, but by enjoying some of the best foods to improve mood, you don’t have to continue to feel down in the dumps any longer.

These foods that deal with depression, to combat stress, and help deal with sadness are natural ways you can feel better and start enjoying life again. And what brings us more pleasure than food?

Sharing a meal with friends and family is also a great way to give your mood an added boost. By cooking up some of these healthy items, you can share the wealth of mood-boosting foods – and reap the benefits – with the ones you love.


Originally Published:

“Irene Valenti walks the grounds of her home in Rancho San Fe. Valenti, whose business is based at another site in Rancho Santa Fe, let her lawn die to save water. “

By | Facebook | No Comments

Where water rules 


At the epicenter of California’s withering drought is the oasis of Rancho Santa Fe, lush with tropical plants, lemon groves and acre after acre of grass.

The upscale enclave earned the dubious distinction of having the state’s highest per-capita residential water use in September, when regulators began collecting that type of monthly calculation for water districts statewide.

The number for the Santa Fe Irrigation District was 584 gallons per day — more than four times the state average.

That distinction threw the community into the spotlight of national media and cast it as an example

Aerial view of landscaping in Rancho Santa Fe. Gov. Jerry Brown has demanded cuts in urban water usage because of the severe drought. SANDY HUFFAKER •GETTY IMAGES

WATER • Regulators set to vote on final requirements in May 

of California’s extravagance with dwindling water resources.

It’s been a wake-up call for Rancho Santa Fe’s residents, and some have invested in replacing their landscapes with succulents and other vegetation that need less water.

“We shouldn’t be having these sprawling citrus groves because we can’t sustain them anymore,” said Janet Lawless Christ, a 12year Rancho Santa Fe resident who has redone the landscaping on most of her two-acre lot to make it more drought-friendly. “It’s a new day, it’s a new normal, people are wrapping their heads around this.”

Large lots

As Californians grapple with the fourth consecutive year of drought, Rancho Santa Fe is among the places likely to have the biggest attitude adjustment coming.

Officials note that the high water consumption in this unincorporated community stems from its land-use planning, with twoand three-acre estates tucked amid leafy glades. Michael Bardin, general manager of the Santa Fe Irrigation District, which serves Rancho Santa Fe and parts of surrounding communities, 

Bardin also said residents are taking seriously the state’s newest water-conservation mandate, which could force them to cut water use by 35 percent starting in June.

“Overall, we’ve seen an intensified interest and awareness during the last few months over the urgency of the drought and the need to conserve water,” he said.

By February, the most recent period for verified data, residents had cut water use to 345 gallons per person each day. Still, that was second-highest in California — behind only the 379 gallons reported by the Myoma Dunes Water Company in Riverside County (next to Palm Desert, Indian Wells and Indio).

State water reports also show that the Santa Fe district has fallen far short of Gov. Jerry Brown’s conservation goal of 20 percent. During the period from September through February, the district actually increased its water use by 2 percent over the same months in 2013.

More pressure

This month, Brown cited the state’s lagging conservation in announcing an unprecedented mandate to reduce water consumption. He is ordering water districts to reduce consumption by an average of 25 percent, with a sliding scale of conservation targets. The biggest water users — including the Santa Fe district — are facing a conservation target of 35 percent.

Water regulators in Sacramento are set to vote on the final requirements in May, with implementation to begin the next month.

Amid this heightened pressure, the Rancho Santa Fe Association is ramping up efforts to educate the 5,000 or so residents of the covenant — the core of the community. Bill Overton, who took over as the association’s manager a little more than two months ago, said the organization is hosting meetings to spread the word on the need to conserve water. It also wants to start a publication about drought, water use and related issues.

Overton said he has heard no opposition or indifference from community members.

“We’re pointed in the right direction,” he said. “This place is many thousands of acres large,and it was originally conceptualized as a gentleman’s orchardtype residential community. So when you ask what the obstacle is, people are used to having three acres of whatever it might be, and it’s time to even rethink that.”

Lifelong Rancho Santa Fe resident Holly Manion rethought her front yard last year. On Wednesday, she stood amid the succulents in her very dry garden, beaming with pride.

“This is a treasure to me now,” she said. “This yard is thriving.”

Manion’s 5,000-square-foot garden looked strikingly different about half a year ago, whenthe yard was covered with green grass. Her project to revamp that space yielded mulch surrounding elephant ears and century plants, traversed by a path of decomposed granite. Manion said she barely needs to water the yard anymore.

She’s still deciding what to do with a patch of dry, brown grass that sits in the corner of her 3.25acre lot.

“My water bill was pretty high and so the option was to let the lawn die or replace it with something else,” Manion said. “There is also a responsibility.”

Not everyone in the area sharesthat sentiment, and the fact that some property owners don’t live in their estates for much of the year can make proactive conservation unappealing.

Making drought-friendly changes outdoors just won’t pencil out for certain Rancho Santa Fe residents, said longtime San Diego landscape architect Martin Schmidt.

“It’s financially a big burden on people,” Schmidt said. “Water is so cheap, relatively speaking, that they ask for a return on investment and it’s 30 years down the road. People look at it and go… ‘I’ll just suck it up and pay the water bill.’ ” He said the bill starts with turf removal and then grows with purchase and installation of the new landscape, which can run $4 to $6 a square foot. In Rancho Santa Fe, that range can rise to $7 to $10 per square foot if people buy bigger trees and shrubs.

With 43,560 square feet in an acre, the price tag can be as much as $435,000 for an acre of top-ofthe line, drought-resistant landscaping.

“Up until last year, (talk of the drought) would fall on deaf ears,” Schmidt said. “Only now with the passing of that executive order by Gov. Brown have people finally paid attention.”

Lawless Christ said she and her husband paid between $6,000 and $8,000 to redo their landscaping. The undertaking involved removing every blade of grass in the backyard and replacing them with paving and succulents. The couple swapped their high-wateruse trees and hedges with California oaks and drought-tolerant

Aerial view overlooking Rancho Santa Fe. Officials note that the high water consumption in this unincorporated community stems from its land-use planning, with two- and three-acre estates tucked amid leafy glades. SANDY HUFFAKER •GETTY IMAGES

Irene Valenti walks the grounds of her home in Rancho San Fe. Valenti, whose business is based at another site in Rancho Santa Fe, let her lawn die to save water. EDUARDO CONTRERAS •U-T

Originally Published:

Horse Power

By | Facebook | No Comments

On a farm in Virginia, rescued horses teach young people to take the reins of their own lives.

Boy with Horse

The calendar says it’s after Labor Day, but an early September heat wave makes it feel more like July. In the fields of central Virginia’s Brook Hill Farm, horses that Jo Anne Miller has rescued are clustered under shade trees. Miller and assistant farm director Tracy Russler invite a visitor inside a low-slung building where a golden retriever lies panting on the cement floor and two industrial-size fans blow around hot air.

Miller, a member of the Rotary Club of Bedford, explains that she started Brook Hill Farm 14 years ago, partly because of her experience working at a racetrack when she was younger: She saw once-valued horses sold at auction after they had become injured or simply gotten old. As the years passed, she worried about the fate of those horses. Eventually, she decided to buy a dilapidated 60-acre former hog farm where, with the help of a local veterinarian, Ronald Fessler, she could save the horses no one wanted.

Today, Brook Hill Farm is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. It has given more than 420 horses refuge and a guarantee of lifelong care, either with new owners or at Brook Hill itself. Miller is proud of that number but wishes it were higher: Each month, she is asked to take in 40 to 50 horses, but can only accept one – “if we’re lucky” – with the farm’s limited budget.

Miller keeps before-and-after pictures of her horses, and as Russler presses a button on a projector, an image appears of a horse so thin its ribs are showing. “We deal with a lot of cases of starvation,” Miller says. Click.“We also deal with malnutrition. This horse had owners who were feeding him lettuce and potatoes.” Click.“We get a lot of cases of neglect.” Click. “This horse was left in a field to die with a broken leg.” Click.“Arthritis is another problem. An owner put a horse here in an 8-by-10-foot stall for a year. They’re not meant to live that way.”

But Brook Hill Farm’s focus extends beyond four-footed creatures. “Our mission is twofold: It’s to help the unwanted horses, and it’s to help the kids,” says Miller, who is certified as an equine specialist in mental health and learning, and has a degree in education with a focus on teaching kids with learning disabilities.

“The kids” are mostly teenage girls who help care for and rehabilitate the horses, and in the process find a measure of healing themselves. “Like the horses who fall through the cracks,” Russler says, “they’re the kids who fall through the cracks.”

Some know what it’s like to be unwanted, and they find acceptance in Brook Hill’s Equine Facilitated Learning program. “Kids like Shannon who said, ‘I have epilepsy; no one will let me ride anywhere,” Miller explains. “Or Katie, who has juvenile diabetes and anorexia; you can’t ride with those conditions at a regular barn. Julian: metal plate in leg, ‘Insurance won’t let me ride.’ Claire: legally blind. She came to me and said, ‘I want to ride horses, but nobody will let me because I can’t see.’ And I said, ‘The horse isn’t going to bump into anything. It’s not really an issue.’”

Other kids who come to Brook Hill are considered “at-risk” because they’re having a hard time getting through school or staying out of trouble. Miller ticks off some of the most common issues she sees: “We have kids who have been bullied, kids with Asperger’s, bipolar, anxiety, abused kids, kids with emotional disorders, sexual abuse.”

Through school officials – or sometimes through juvenile court – they join United Neigh, a nurturing but tough-love after-school program at Brook Hill, where they receive tutoring in academic subjects, carry out barn chores, learn about equine care and, as a reward for good performance, can ride and call a horse their own.

“Studies have found that small after-school groups are successful at keeping kids in school,” Miller says. Since 2002, every one of the program’s 103 participants has graduated from high school and pursued some form of continuing education. But there’s no magic bullet in what Miller, Russler, Fessler, and the staff of volunteers do. The kids benefit from the farm’s “structured environment,” Russler says, where “everything is in its place.” It’s a reassuring sense of order that many don’t have at home. They gain self-esteem as their grades improve with tutoring by volunteer college students, and they gain maturity by talking with adult volunteers.

But at the center of everything is their interaction with the animals. Miller explains that horses are “congruent” – they feel what their handler feels. “Horses mirror the feeling behind the façade. So the horse is going to mirror the child’s persona. An angry young lady with angry body language who approaches a horse will find the horse reacts with ears back. If she is coming at this horse like this, he’s worried: ‘If you’re going to be angry, I’ll be angry.’ The horses teach the kids to think, ‘How is my body language received?’ So we teach the kids to make changes to their behavior to get successful outcomes with the horses.”

Over the years, Miller has learned to pair the right horse with the right person. She has matched abused kids with horses whose owners hurt them, and given girls with anxiety horses with nervous dispositions.

Sid was a rail-thin horse on the verge of starvation when he arrived at Brook Hill. Sara was an anorexic girl who weighed 73 pounds. “We paired Sara and Sid together, and we talked to Sara about what Sid should eat,” Miller says. “We also brought a dietitian in to talk to Sara about her own diet.” Both made a full recovery. Sara finished her once-abandoned high school studies and graduated from community college.

There are many similar stories at Brook Hill Farm.

Belle, 19, has Asperger’s, depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder. She says spending two years in United Neigh turned around her failing grades, focused her mind on the future, and made her into a competitive show horse rider. Miller is helping her apply to community college, after which she plans to teach equine therapy.

“Coming out here has helped me so much with all my disabilities,” Belle says. “My anxiety-depression disorder isn’t as bad as it used to be. There are girls out here who have the same issues I do, and it’s so nice to relate to somebody, to talk to someone and have them understand me. I feel like I belong here with everyone, and the horses. Because all the horses have problems too. My horse has been through a rough patch, and so have I, so we work perfectly together.”

Anna, 17, came to Brook Hill after spending time on probation because of trouble at school. “Before I came here, I didn’t see myself going anywhere,” she says. “Now I see college, a job, the whole nine yards.” Leni, 15, suffered panic attacks, had no friends, and hated school. Now she’s enrolled in early college classes and plans to become a veterinarian.

Despite its success in rescuing horses and helping kids in need, Brook Hill Farm struggles with funding. Most of its operating budget comes from individual donations of less than $100; Miller and Russler largely live off their personal savings. The 112-year-old classroom building is bare and unheated. There’s no indoor riding ring, and Miller says the fields are in rough shape because she can’t pay a full-time farm manager.

But she’s found support since joining the Bedford club about a year ago. Ed Wennerstrom has become Brook Hill’s unofficial photographer and provides free prints to the kids. Roger Henderson has donated more than 500 hours of labor to improving the barn and fences and serving as a mentor. A group of Rotarians devoted an entire day to putting double walls on the horse stalls.

“I joined Rotary to get to know other people in the community who were also service-oriented,” Miller says. “And I’ve learned that it’s a really active club, and there are so many opportunities to get involved in the community and even worldwide. Our club is partnering with other Rotary clubs in the area on a Habitat for Humanity house in Lynchburg.”

As they arrive after school, the kids crowd around Miller. At one point, she walks over to a girl named Molly, who has told her she is often bullied at school. As Molly brushes a horse’s neck with long, gentle strokes, Miller asks if she had a good day. Molly shakes her head and smiles. “No. I’m just happy to be here.” —Heather Maher

Originally Published: