Nonprofit Santa Clarita equine therapy program seeks new home to continue much-needed services

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. (KABC) -- Ryan Wesselhoff said the connection he's made with the horses at SRD Straightening Reins has likely saved his life.

"I give credit to this place to getting me to where I am now," the 20-year-old said. "Without everybody here and the rest of the horses, I don't know if I would be here today."

Ryan is among the 700 people who used the Santa Clarita nonprofit over the past year for equine assistance, therapy and communication workshops. They interact with the animals on the ranch to cope with depression, anxiety and many other conditions.

"I love having a place where it makes me feel safe," said 11-year-old Roxie, who said caring for the horses has helped with anxiety.

Executive director Deborah Rocha started the program six years ago after her teenage daughter committed suicide. When she's not teaching full time, she lives on the property, running the program and taking care of the animals.

"I'm not turning anyone away who needs the help," she said.

Now, SRD Straightening Reins is looking for a new home. The program's lease is up in November, and it is looking for a new location to handle growing needs. It's also set up a GoFundMe page to help raise money.

"Give me the opportunity to show you we are producing productive citizens who make a difference in our community," Rocha said. "We don't have any paid staff. All of our staff volunteer. All of our money goes to feed our animals and pay for the facility. There's got to be someone somewhere who's got a facility they're not using who wants a tax write-off."

Rocha admits she has not been the best at fundraising and has focused on running the ranch location. She also never turns families away who can't afford to pay for services.

Clinical trainees who volunteer at the site said they've also seen more of an impact working with kids through equine therapy than with those in typical office settings.

"They're getting to have fun, learn how to be themselves and how to handle what's going on in their lives without having to walk into an office where everyone knows what I'm doing in a very strict setting," Breonna Sanders said.

Sanders commutes from Tehachapi to volunteer at SRD Straightening Reins and is about to graduate with her master's degree in marriage and family therapy.

Several parents believe this program has definitely saved their kids' lives.

"It's been a phenomenal difference. They're more confident and they're picking up social cues," parent Dana Bradford said.

"The need for a therapy like this in this Valley is profound," said Elizabeth Wesselhoff, Ryan's mother.

"It's been a huge blessing not only in my life (but in) my family's," Ryan said. "It's the greatest place I could have ended up."
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