Young rider reads books to raise $707 |

Young rider reads books to raise $707

by Sheila Gardner
Nine-year-old Sawyer Villanueva does ground work with Rascal at Between Horses and Humans on Wednesday.
Shannon Litz | The Record-Courier

Sawyer Villanueva does some of her best thinking on horseback.

So, it made sense to the 9-year-old equestrienne to come up with a fundraiser for Between Humans and Horses, a nonprofit program which pairs able-bodied children and young adults with horses to build leadership and communication skills.

In seven days, Sawyer raised $707.50 by signing up sponsors for a one-girl read-a-thon.

She read 37 books.

“I love to read and I wanted to raise money for the program,” she said during an interview at Maddi’s Friesien Ranch on Old Foothill Road.

The ranch is owned by Ruth Page and Greg Walsh who donate the facility for the program.

Sawyer began the program riding pony, Mo. But she has graduated to Chip.

“I guess I had to trust Chip that he wasn’t a crazy horse and he doesn’t get hyper,” Sawyer said.

Barbara Slade, head trainer for the program, is at Sawyer’s side, coaching, teaching and encouraging.

“You bring out the best in Chip,” Slade told her. “How do you do that?”

Sawyer ticked off the routine: “Body work, grooming, leading him around without being bossy.”

Sawyer’s mother, Tonia Villanueva, said the weekly visits have a profound effect on her daughter.

“I think it’s amazing. It’s helped center her. It gives her an outlet. She’s learned control with the horse. She is a much more mellow kid, there are a lot more ‘pleases and thank-yous,’” Villanueva said.

In addition to contact with the horse, Villanueva said Sawyer’s blooms under Slade’s supervision.

“She gets ‘Barbara time,’” Villanueva said. “When she gets the message through Barbara, it packs more punch.”

Villanueva home schools Sawyer and her 6-year-old brother, Jace.

“Coming down here every week is one thing we look forward to,” she said.

Sawyer is not intimidated by Chip’s size.

“I like being up on a horse,” she said. “You just have to trust horses, and trust yourself. You can’t get freaked out around them.”

Sawyer said training exercises and riding are her favorite aspects of the weekly sessions.

Sawyer’s contribution will be added to the $21,000 raised last month during the organization’s fall fundraiser.

Between Horses and Humans, opened in 2009, works with 60-80 participants each year.

The program, run by volunteers, is free to participants aged 8 through 26.

“You remind me of a little fairy,” Slade told Sawyer. “You bring joy, love and good luck.”

Slade said she was moved by Sawyer’s generosity.

“This will help us invite a couple more children, and buy a bag or two of treats. We live in a very generous community of nice people who care and are willing to share,” she said.