MARIN - A Marin County woman's horse riding accident decades ago helped spur an idea that began one of the oldest weekly therapeutic horseback riding programs in the Bay Area.
Joyce Goldfield has always loved horses, even though she had a bad fall nearly 50 years ago while volunteering at a Marin County horse ranch.
"I bucked off a horse named Dill Pickle - never ride a horse named Dill Pickle - and broke my shoulder in 19 places," she said.
Goldfield spent five months in a full body cast.
"My arm was stretched out all in plaster, attached to my chest with a broomstick,," she described. "You'd smash into everything in the house, you couldn't get in a car."
Goldfield developed a deeper understanding of the barriers faced by people with disabilities, and she talked with horse trainer Duane Irving about how to bring them joy.
"It was the one thing that was missing from their lives - fun," she said. "And that's why anything Duane and I could think of, we did."
They co-founded Halleck Creek Ranch in 1977 in Nicasio Valley. The nonprofit offered adaptive horseback riding lessons for people with physical, cognitive and emotional challenges. In the early years, Goldfield and Irving would also take kids on snow trips, sailing, kayaking and camping.
"Listening to them laugh, watching the discovery, things like on the trail, seeing a deer and a deer nursing a baby. It doesn't get much better than that," she declared.
Today, Halleck Creek Ranch serves 75 students a week with 150 volunteers. The riding sessions are no longer free, but the nonprofit offers scholarships and takes fees on a sliding scale.
Robyn Moyer is a certified therapeutic riding instructor, who recently led a lesson with Alex, who lives with autism, and his girlfriend, Nicole, who has cerebral palsy and was able to experience freedom from her wheelchair.
Moyer sees lots of smiles during the pair's weekly lesson.
"They're also boosting their confidence, self-esteem, and, of course, their strength," Moyer said.
Halleck Creek Ranch also offers summer horsemanship camps and vocational and life skills on the ranch. In addition, veterans groups use the horses for mental health therapy.
Executive director Molly Scannell says over the years, Goldfield has taught her two important lessons about leadership: one, how to approach life.
"She never gives up. She never takes no for an answer," Scannell said.
And, two, how to approach people.
"Not having any expectation or judgment on anyone. It's just really meeting people where they're at and being kind," added Scannell.
Irving passed away in 2010. His ashes are scattered by a favorite tree overlooking the 60-acre ranch he acquired for the nonprofit. Goldfield is retired, but never too far away from the horses and students.
"They always taught me more than I taught them," she smiled, hugging the neck of a white horse named Historia.
So for bringing therapeutic horseback riding and more to people with disabilities, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Joyce Goldfield.
Halleck Creek Ranch relies on private donations and grants. Their next fundraising event will be held at Rancho Nicasio in September.
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