Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Cowboy Ball: “Magic Happens Here”
David Cimino and Shannon Avery swing to the country western music served up by McKenna Faith.
Sunday, July 12, 2015


                It was Stuart Little, a Welsh pony who thrives on peppermints, that caught Judy Smooke’s eye.

“He’s so cute,” she told her husband Richard as she angled for his support to sponsor the therapeutic riding horse for the year.

A tour of Jay Leno’s Big Dog garage, a mustang safari coupled with paintball competition with an ex-Navy SEAL—these all caught the attention of 440 patrons who sashayed into the new covered arena at Swiftsure Ranch south of Bellevue Thursday night for the annual Cowboy Ball.

Patrons decked out in Stetsons and packing 357s on their hip toasted the Therapeutic Equestrian Center with blood orange margarita slushes and mint juleps. They availed themselves of  caterer David Fox’s melt-in-your-mouth beef tenderloin and bacon-wrapped jalapenos.

And they were generous, bidding $25,000 on a trip to the National Rodeo Finals in Las Vegas and $10,500 each for a Yamaha Grizzly ATV, courtesy of South Valley Motor Sports, and a trip to New York,  courtesy of Ann Leonardo, Reinstein Ross Goldsmiths and others.

“It’s the best we’ve done since 2007,” said Esther Ochsman, who has helped with the ball for a dozen-plus years. “The response has been building back steadily the past few years.”

Money raised benefits the riding program, which assists more than 300 individuals ages 2 through 86 at no cost each year, including veterans with traumatic brain injuries and children with cancer.

The program recently began working with people with Alzheimer’s, thanks to a grant from the Wood River Women’s Foundation, said Board President Leslie Benz.

In addition to more familiar conditions such as spinal cord injuries and cerebral palsy, the 1,500-pound four-legged therapists also assist people with such things as bladder diverticulum, chromosomal deletion, eye focus problems, hydrocephalus, schizophrenia and vesicoureteral reflux.

Swiftsure has a new ADA-accessible campground by the river this summer, said Benz. And the ranch hopes to enclose its outdoor arena to provide services year-round.

 Wendy and Billy Collins have long been supporters of the ranch, with Wendy instructing there when it was known as Sagebrush Arena on Buttercup Road.

 “Magic happens here,” she said. “Children people say can’t speak begin talking. People who feel they don’t have any purpose in life feel they have a reason to be alive because of the relationship they develop with their horse.

“You see results every day. A woman who’s been abused sees for the first time in her life what it’s like to have power over something bigger than herself. Children who feel like they have no control find they have a voice. Our motto has always been that everyone should feel better when they leave than when they came.”

Vickie Riedel, dressed in her Old West brothel madam outfit, attended the ball with John Pace, who is building a neuro-rehab center in the Middle East. Riedel, a former physical therapist, was one of the first to avail herself of the therapeutic riding center’s services—for a little girl with spinal bifida.

“It’s the best party of the year. The people are fun. And I love the setting,” she said.

Lacey Heward was paralyzed from the waist down when her father’s barbells fell on her when she was a toddler. She grew up riding her family’s horses but she never learned how to communicate with one until she started riding at Swiftsure.

“It was always me trying to stay on the horse,” she said. “I feel more empowered, more confident, now because I’m talking to the horse and learning to communicate with her—it’s a two way street rather than a one-way street.”

Heward is able to escape her wheelchair temporarily in the monoski that she rode in the 2002 and 2006 Paralympics. Getting in the saddle provides that same escape.

And the gait of her horse helps her scoliosis.

“The gait of the horse mimics a normal walk,” she said. “When I swing my arms, I feel like I’m walking. I leave feel exhausted but in a good way. It gives me a good workout.”

Samantha Vom Cleff was among 95 volunteers who assisted with the ball. A veteran from California, she paced the sidelines with her service dog, vigorously shaking a big red paddle whenever a nearby patron bid on an auction item.

Vom Cleff is spending the summer at Swiftsure.

“Being here, riding the horses, is the first time with the exception of my dog that I’ve felt independent,” she said. “It’s like a breath of fresh air.”

PHOTO WR Rangers Steven Garman with Jack Bunce/Barbara Wentzel/dancers Kimberlee Hyk and Daniel Calugar/volunteers Janet Becht and Betty Grant

David Cimino and Shannon Avery swing to the country western music served up by McKenna Faith.

Billy and Wendy Collins join Teresa Hukari and Steven Garman.

Teri Szombathy, Ann Leonardo and Esther Ochsman lined up an attractive silent auction.

David Cimino and Shannon Avery, who praised the program for helping her friend Barbara Wentzel,  after she sustained a head injury in a barrel riding accident.

Lori Hansen bellies up to one of the saddles mounted along the two bars.



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