Chris Ellsworth is a well-known trainer operating out of Rawking Horse Ranch in Briones. Chris spent most of his formative years working as a cattleman in Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota. Throughout that 30 year history, Chris worked with scores of fabulous horse trainers who taught him many things, but in the end, Chris realized it was the horse itself that was the greatest teacher. He began to realize he wanted to devote his life to making horses’ lives better, just as they had done for him. “I began to forge my own path, to follow where the horses led me. Letting go of what I thought I knew, learning to trust my instincts and turn in the direction the horses themselves were offering was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But now I consider this breaking away from all traditions to learn directly from horses to be my greatest accomplishment.” Chris has an affinity for reading horses and figuring out just what they are communicating to their human companions. By helping people to understand this, he can improve the relationship between horse and rider.
Xenophon was fortunate to have Chris come and donate his time and expertise to our Xenophon horses and horse handlers. Chris spent three hours on Sunday, August 26th up at the center, providing insight into our horses’ unique personalities. He quickly sized up our Xennies, identifying personality challenges. No one was surprised when he identified Kiwi as a dominant mare who has been “around the block”, and needed her handler to establish a leader position from the get go. He gave insight into GoGo, being an Arabian and having been bred to charge through Bedouin camps, and how to keep her calm. He also worked on getting her to be more accepting and less defensive of her herd mates. Chris’s calm demeanor and motivating attitude instilled confidence in the attendees and he provided wonderful tools that our handlers can use to help each horse be successful in its job. Everyone came away from the clinic with new skill sets and information. Thank you, Chris, for this incredible opportunity. Our horses will thank you, too!
While the contribution that Xenophon’s program horses make to the well-being of the participants in our programs is widely known, it is not so widely known that they are contributing to the “growth” of our community in another unique way….manure! Most of you have seen the large bins on the edge of our parking lot at the base of the lower arena. Did you know that these are sophisticated composting bins? The designs for these special bins comes from O2 Compost, a company started by an environmental engineer who specializes in compost systems. They have a forced air system that “cooks” the compost at 140-160 degrees, making it usable in about 6 week’s time.
Needless to say, with 7 program horses we have an unlimited supply of raw materials, which renders us a constant supply of compost. So what do we do with all that “top shelf” compost? Xenophon is now collaborating with Moraga Gardens Farm (MGF), another local non-profit, run by volunteers, who grow an amazing variety of crops. These crops are supplied to local community organizations who assist families in need and are also sold to local groceries and restaurants in the Berkeley and Lamorinda area. The money raised is used to buy seed and assist with the maintenance of the garden infrastructure. Xenophon supplies a stable supply of compost to Moraga Gardens Farm, who use it to grow fabulous food for the community. Go MFG and go Xennies! Check out the article in the MGF newsletter!
PATH International is the governing body for equine-assisted therapy in the United States. It provides credentialing, sets safety standards, and ensures the professionalism and growth of our industry. In addition, they provide educational opportunities so that certified instructors can meet required continuing education requirements. One of the ways they do this is through regional and national conferences.
On July 27-29, 2018, six Xenophon staff headed down to Shadow Hills Riding Club, just outside Burbank, CA, for the PATH Region 11 conference. The regional conferences usually take place at a local therapeutic riding center, with classroom created with tents and practical demonstrations in the arena. It makes for a lovely setting, but also meant attendees braved 97 degree temperatures, taking advantage of the big fans and misters provided by the host center. The heat did not prevent attendees from enjoying the diverse, quality presentations offered throughout the weekend. Topics ranged from information on Veteran’s programs, to offering unmounted lessons, to how to develop a quality 5-year strategic plan.
Mari Parino, our Executive Director, and Wanda Sayuk, a Xen Instructor and Facilitator for Connected Horse at Xenophon, presented on the accomplishments and challenges of our new Alzheimer’s/Dementia program. Linda Parsons, our Assistant Barn Manager, and Mari, presented a workshop on line lining that included instructional games and the experience of long lining Mari’s two Friesian horses, whom she trailered all the way down to Los Angeles. It was a quality, educational conference, with the experience providing new ideas to augment Xenophon’s wonderful programs.
It was a Battle of the Bay, and what a battle it was! The score went back and forth, with the lead changing by innings. It turned into a nail-biter as the score was tied up in the bottom of the 8th inning, sending the game to extra innings! Fifty-five A’s and Giants’ fans from Xenophon turned out for a night of BBQ and baseball on July 21, 2018 for an awesome evening. The fun started with a tailgate party at the Coliseum in Oakland and continued in the stadium with friendly competition between those sporting the green and gold and those in orange and black. It was a great way to get to know others in the Xenophon family.
Thank you, Janet Alexander, for all your planning. If you missed out this year, come and join the fun next year, but get your tickets early… it sells out!
Last August, Xenophon piloted a program designed to address the stress and strain that accompanies a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia. In partner with Connected Horse, another non-profit that developed the curriculum based on research studies at both Stanford University and UC Davis, the program uses therapy horses to provide centered experiences to reduce stress, increase communication and improve other life functions. We have seen remarkable results in the program and the feedback from participants has been tremendous both from the person living with dementia and from the care partner. Often the care partner comes thinking the program is just for the individual affected with the disease, but find they are changed from their own experience.
While we see the benefits of this valuable program firsthand, we wanted to introduce it to the geriatric community. On Monday, June 11, 2018, Xenophon and Connected Horse hosted a group of 30 professionals at the center from a wide range of geriatric specialties. Through interactive stations, attendees were given a glimpse into the exercises that participants experience when they come. from Over the Fence meet and greet with the horses to grooming to leading, as well as grounding exercises designed to regulate breathing and connect people to the moment. The morning was concluded with a box lunch and Question and Answer period.
The event was a huge success with positive feedback from the attendees. We hope to hold additional Professional Days in the future as we introduce this valuable program to others in our community.
It was a beautiful day at Golden Gate Fields. The perfect day on which to end their spring racing season. With Justify’s win of the Triple Crown the day before, many folks were in the mood for horse racing. That or the $1.00 beer, mimosas and hot dogs brought them in.
Several times during the year, Golden Gate Fields have non-profits come in to run their “Dollar Day” food and drink booths. We receive $1,000 in exchange for providing the work force to pour beer and hand out hot dogs.
The crowds were out in force yesterday and it was lucky for Xenophon we had an A-team of helpers there. The first hour before the races started was rather slow, and we were able to watch the first group of horses cross the finish line. That was the last glimpse of horses we ever saw, because for the next 4 hours we were running our own race to pour beer, mix mimosas, fill glasses and keep the booth stocked. The line often stretched 20 yards and the hot dogs were flying out faster than we could keep them stocked. Jim Taylor, Peter Molgaard and David Besenfelder practically never turned the beer spigots off except to change out a keg. Paula Newton, Tammy Kaida and her husband, Scott, were constantly mixing mimosas and filling champagne glasses. Scott gets the award for the fastest champagne cork popper ever. Our front line, Michelle Bushong, Kaitlin Parodi, Lisa Powell, Wendy Markel and Mari Parino, held the day, serving guests and making those tips! David Hylton was invaluable running beer, refilling supplies and helping at the front counter. These folks worked tirelessly for the entire day! We have never seen a Golden Gate Fields Dollar Day with the lines so long. It was a hard-earned $1,000. Thank you one and all!
Last August, Xenophon piloted a new program called Connected Horse at Xenophon. The program is designed to help individuals with living with dementia or Alzheimer’s and their care partners, by reducing stress levels, improving sleep and increasing communication, all of which have been proven to slow progression of this disease. Connected Horse, is a non-profit organization which developed the curriculum that Xenophon is piloting. They have done research projects at UC Davis and Stanford University that documents the improvement in quality of life markers through the interaction with equines. More can be learned about this through the Connected Horse website, http://www.connectedhorse.com.
On Saturday, April 28th, our center was used to host a facilitator training workshop for people in the equine industry who are interested in using the Connected Horse curriculum at other centers throughout the state. Participants came from Fairfax, Petaluma and even as far as Nevada. The workshop was conducted on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday providing intense classroom instruction, where Nancy Schier Anzelmo, a highly regarded gerontologist and Alzheimer’s/dementia care specialist, gave insight into the unique challenges facing individuals struggling with this disease, as well as instructional skills necessary when working with the population. Sunday provided practical application using our Xenophon horses, who joined in as willing teachers and participants. Wanda Sayuk, one of our Xenophon instructors who teaches Therapeutic Riding and is currently a Connected Horse facilitator, joined in the workshop as both participant and mentor. Penny Sinder, one of our volunteers, who currently works in the Connected Horse program at Xenophon, and Renee Dyer, a Xen volunteer, also participated. The success of the workshop and the program in general is summed up in the words of Penny Sinder, “While most participants came to the Connected Horse Facilitator Workshop with an understanding of the remarkable bond between humans and horses, our perspectives were greatly expanded as relates to this bond for people living with dementia and their care partners. Nancy Schier Anzelmo the co-founder and educational director of Connected Horse introduced us to not only the expressions and ramifications of early stage dementia but most importantly to the cutting edge interventions possible through the Connected Horse Project. Relying on the powerful human-horse connection, the program focuses on enabling people living with dementia to be engaged in a vibrant and active life while experiencing enhanced communication with their care partners; this while care partners learn to improve their own quality of life and continue to enjoy having experiences with, not solely for, their loved ones. The techniques Liz Williams, MA and Connected Horse lead facilitator so aptly explained, demonstrated and which we practiced with real time feedback are both specific and nuanced. Significant reference material was provided to reinforce and augment what was provided during the workshop. I am privileged to take part in this innovative and evolving pilot project while being offered the education and support necessary to make a meaningful difference in someone’s life.”
On a beautiful sunny Saturday morning on April 15, 2018, Twenty-eight families, with children aged anywhere from 2 -12, arrived at Xenophon to learn about “compassionate critters” and how animals help humans. The event was planned in conjunction with Mindful Littles, a non-profit in Moraga, whose mission is to inspire parents and children to be more mindful and compassionate by participating in meaningful service projects. The focus of the day was to inspire compassion for animals by learning about the ways that animals can be more than pets and actually help humans.
The day started with Yoga-based group stretching activities in which the children were “tall like a giraffe” or “strong like an elephant”. From there, they learned about the horses at Xenophon and the special children and adults that they help. To develop compassion for the challenges that some individuals face, the children tried puzzles, beads and latches with one of their hands impacted by a glove. From there it was off to meet the therapy animals who had come to the center.
With “passports” in hand, the children rotated to stations to meet therapy dogs and therapy horses. We were disappointed that LiLou, the therapy pig, had to cancel last minute due to her owner’s illness, but the other two groups held much interest. Six different dogs from Valley Humane Society patiently greeted the 30+ children that eagerly waited to make their acquaintance. True to their training, the Xen horses stood quietly by while necks and shoulder were groomed and petted. . Each station offered the children interesting facts about what these special animals do, and these could be used to answer questions in their passports The last station was for making cookies for the Xenophon horses using oats, molasses and flour. Our Xenophon horses are grateful for the treats.
It was a wonderful day, packed with information, but more importantly it provided the foundation for compassion about the important role that these special animals play in the lives of humans.
Xenophon’s annual gala event took place this past Saturday, March 17th at Diablo Country Club in Danville. It was a special event and proved to be a celebration worthy of 25 years. While Diablo Country Club has an undeniable elegance of its own, the silver trees decked out in crystals, the twinkling trees on every banquet table, the silver and blue accents around every room transformed the already beautiful venue into magical splendor. It was evident from the get go that this was not just another ordinary gala. Perhaps it was Boomer, the baby kangaroo greeting guests as they arrived, or Whitey, the stand-in Xenophon horse decked out in his teal Arabian costume, or the fabulous photo booth full of fur coats and other props to create memories of a fantastic evening. It might have been the 6 harpists from the White Horse Harpers that serenaded during the cocktail hour. Certainly, our evening program, video and guest speakers made this gala one to stand out.
Everyone who attended agreed there was magic in the air. Throughout the early part of the evening there were games to play and fabulous items in the silent auction. The evening program was the highlight. Board President, Trudy Presser, greeted the guests and did a fabulous job honoring our Executive Director, Mari Parino, who was obviously touched by the recognition. A fabulous video, created by Ryan Bergez, took us back in time and recreated the making of a premier accredited center. It was incredible to follow the path from Carole Dwinell’s property to our current location, and the transformation of a grassy field into the quaint barn and arena that saw us through the next 15 years. Finally, a few tears came to the eyes as we saw our little barn bulldozed but replaced by our magnificent covered arena, office building and pipe stalls. Along with that was the pride in our progress as we made the transition to a year-round program and added 3 new programs to supplement Therapeutic Riding and Hippotherpy. It was a trip down memory lane for some and we were able to honor those instrumental in helping the center through these major transitions. This included honoring our Founder, Judy Lazarus. For others, it was an enlightening tale of the making of a successful therapeutic riding center, one that is having a significant impact on the local community.
But, by and large, it was our student speakers who stole the show. Genna Legallet, a Xenophon alumni, had the audience in stitches with her humor and tales of years spent riding at the center. She shared how Xenophon influenced her choice of college and led her to compete in the Special Olympics as an equestrienne. Charlotte Sandford, a current Xenophon student, talked about the ways in which Xenophon has impacted her school life and made her stronger. She encouraged us to keep up the good work!
So many people were instrumental in making the event happen. A huge thank you goes to our sponsors and donors, our volunteers and our gala committee. Many hands worked on decorations, videos, and auction procurement. Xenophon’s staff put in countless hours of overtime. Thank you to one and all who created a memorable 25th anniversary celebration. Here is a list of our sponsors and those who donated to our auction. Please frequent these businesses and say thank you on behalf of Xenophon. We also want to thank Jamieson Ranch Vineyard who donated all the wine for the evening. If you didn’t get a chance to try it, stop by the winery. If you did like it, pick some up for yourself or try some of their other wonderful wines.