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By Jessica DiCostanzo
This week, the San Juan Capistrano Equestrian Coalition (SJCEC) is excited to highlight a local unsung hero of the equestrian community: western trainer Christina Carson. Not only does Christina run a top-flight western riding program, she is also a creative genius. Every year, she donates her time and craft skills to help the SJCEC come up with over-the-top creations for the annual silent auction.
Christina started at Ortega Equestrian Center in 1988 working for SJCEC’s Distinguished Equestrian Award winner, Kathy Holman. Chris quickly fell in love with the horses and noticed how they positively transformed people in all walks of life. This started her lifelong dream of riding and teaching people the magic of horses and finding ways to incorporate her training into works with underprivileged children, both on and off the horses.
The two horsewomen quickly bonded over the magic of horses, as they witnessed how they could help people from all walks of life. Watching this transformation process inspired Kathy to found Otra Mas (otramas.net), a local nonprofit that specializes in equine-assisted therapy and horse rescue.
Carson and Holman were able to team up with another local nonprofit, Unique Diamond, to develop an outreach program for local kids in San Juan Capistrano.
They started with a mini horse camp, using the practices of Otra Mas (and Kathy Holman’s horses) to teach these underprivileged children how to be around horses. The campers got the ultimate reward; they then took an hour-long trail ride.
“The look on their faces is priceless,” Carson said.
Ortega Equestrian Center is the only facility that offers trail rides in San Juan Capistrano, and it was so rewarding to see the kids’ reactions to their first time on a horse.
Collaborations have been key to the outreach program. Carson explained how they team up with individuals, local businesses and nonprofits to keep the outreach program going. For example, Starbucks donates snacks and drinks for the kids. Carson’s clients partake and even dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus around the holidays to make the camps more memorable. The Unidos South program (winner of the SJCEC’s 2021 100 Horsemen Challenge: unidossouthoc.com) helps coordinate campers by working with the school districts.
When asked what the biggest impact horses have on the kids, Carson replied, “I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s huge, and almost overwhelming. I have witnessed countless children completely changed by it. Kids completely open up.”
Besides teaching and training being her way of earning a living, Christina strives to provide the outreach programs pro bono, through donations of unwrapped toys and funds from the public. For more information on lessons or trail rides or to get involved with the outreach program, contact Carson at 559.920.0015.
Jessica DiCostanzo is a San Juan Capistrano Equestrian Coalition Board Member, lifelong equestrian, and co-founder of equivont.com.