Cavalier Feature: Happy Trails To You

Written by Marissa Carpenter, CVC‘s Director of Marketing & Enrollment

Of all the days I could have chosen to head out to Happy Trails, I chose the one day of the first week in May that hit triple digits. A bottle of water handy, I drove up the driveway off of Avenue 256 in Tulare that led to the offices of Happy Trails Riding Academy, being waved in by a friendly face I later found out was Leslie Gardner–Happy Trails’ Executive Director (or “Trail Boss” as the regulars have affectionately renamed her). Of the 25 acres that Happy Trails rests on, much of the facility is pasture, fencing, and massive steel shade structures, one of which sits over a large 100×300 arena where they do most of their lessons, which assist participants ranging in age from 3 to 50+, coming from all over the San Joaquin Valley.

PATH-accredited Happy Trails Riding Academy is able to serve the community in six specific ways: through therapeutic riding, equine-assisted activities and therapies with an occupational therapist, interactive vaulting, cart driving, equine facilitated psychotherapy, and Equine Services for Heroes. Just last year, 2,412 therapeutic lessons were provided. Of course, with all these programs, comes a high need for helping hands. Each week, Happy Trails is filling slots for a whopping 95 volunteers per week. “Horses are the initial draw,” Gardner explained. As volunteers come to hang out with horses, they’re also able to give back to the community. “It’s a privilege to serve our population.”

The core purposes of Happy Trails Riding Academy include: 1) to provide an environment where participants can realize their potential through empowerment and independence; 2) to foster and encourage the therapeutic value of the unique bond between horses and participants, and; 3) to support the development of therapeutic riding. I’ll admit, I’ve driven past Happy Trails more than once, and have always been curious. It wasn’t until our guidance counselor Mrs. Reeves told me about Morgan, one of our students that spent her service hours there, that turned my curiosity into an actual assignment for The Cavalier. To learn more, I interviewed Morgan Spiro, a sophomore at Central Valley Christian:

Tell me about Happy Trails Riding Academy (for people who haven’t heard of it before):

Happy Trails Riding Academy is a therapeutic horsemanship program run through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH). HTRA is where kids with disabilities, both mental and physical, can ride horses to cope with their needs. It gives kids a place to belong; and for some, the only outside-of-school activity they can participate in. HTRA has also recently become involved with the Wounded Warriors Program, which helps our veterans recover physically and mentally from experiences at war.

How did you hear about it?

I heard about Happy Trails through my dad. He became involved there a number of years ago by joining the board.


“Happy Trails gives children and adults a place to belong, and a place to not be looked at any differently.” -Morgan Spiro, ’19


How long have you been there as a volunteer, and what do you do there? (Walk me through a regular day / volunteer time).

A regular day at Happy Trails consists of anything from painting fences, to leveling dirt, to clearing dishes. Whatever needs to be done, gets done. Leslie Gardner, the executive director of the program, is always looking for people to do odd jobs and get simple things done around the facility, or to help out at events. In addition to this, some volunteers get involved in the work directly by helping kids, and walking alongside them in lessons.

What kind of training is required to become a volunteer?

There are orientations you can attend to become a walk-along volunteer and work with the horses and children. At these orientations you go through safety, emergency, and confidentiality procedures. This type of volunteer must be 14 years or older. However, to simply help out around the facility, only a willing attitude is required.

Why is Happy Trails Academy close to your heart?

Happy Trails is very close to my heart, because just as God doesn’t judge us for our imperfections, horses can’t judge children for theirs. We all know what it feels like to be put down by this world; and for kids with mental and physical disabilities, the treatment of this world can be damaging. Happy Trails gives children and adults a place to belong, and a place to not be looked at any differently.

What are ways in which the CVC community can help Happy Trails Academy? (Volunteer, donate, help out with specific needs, spread the word, etc.?)

The great thing I’ve seen about the CVC community is their absolute willingness to jump into any project that needs them. CVC families are extremely involved personally and financially in a lot of great organizations. It would be very helpful to HTRA if Happy Trails was added to that list. The more kids we can get involved, and the more parents we can get attending dinners and events, the more Happy Trails can do for children and veterans who need its services.

More about you…How else do you spend your time? Extracurricular activities?

I am involved in CVC FFA, as well as the track team. I am also involved in the Kings Junior Fair Board (KJFB), and 4-H.

Here’s to hot summers, hefty horses, Happy Trails and helping hands. To learn more about Happy Trails, visit their website here.

The 4-1-1 on Service Hours at CVC

-All high school students are required to complete 40 hours of community service, preferably with three different types of community service
-Service done for family members, home congregations, CVC volunteering does not count toward the requirement (though outreaches such as Vacation Bible School or other opportunities coordinated by the church could count)
-Community service requirements were implemented so students were learn different ways to serve, and become more Christ-like
-Many students continue to volunteer and serve after their hours are completed
-Some locations/events selected for serving over the years have included Miracle League of Visalia, the SPCA, the Walk for Life, and AYSO or Recreation Department coaching
-Some students have identified their own service opportunities, opting to mow lawns for widows/widowers, or do free childcare for single parents
-Colleges often look beyond grade point averages and test scores, looking also for a student who has invested his/her time into something outside of school (and these community service hours sometimes inspire unique essays for college applications!)


This feature was originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of The Cavalier magazine, a quarterly publication sent to our past families, current families, donors and alumni. Click here to update your alumni information!

Looking for a school that will challenge you to serve your community and become an active member of society while seeking out all that God has in store for you? Apply today!

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