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By Mike Hazlip—
Michelle Solorzano packs a lot of activities into her one-acre property in Citrus Heights, located just off Mariposa Avenue.
The property is an eclectic mix of pastures, training areas, patio chairs around a fire pit, and a colorfully painted stable and a gym. A high tripod for practicing aerial skills sits above a soft bed of mulch where students can practice a variety of moves, both in the air and on horseback.
The Sentinel sat down with Solorzano and six performers who also coach classes at the facility. Three of them are her own children. Soloranzo and husband Paul have seven children, two of whom are adopted.
Although Solorzano has spent decades working with horses, she has only recently opened the property up to other activities. She says the decision to expand into other activities was driven by the children who come to her.
“Some children want to compete, some do not,” Solorzano said. “It’s a nonprofit organization so none of us get paid, we’re all volunteer. I know you can get paid in a nonprofit, but we do not. We just all volunteer, they grow up and they give back.”
Solorzano, 53, now hosts a trick riding team, silks aerialist team, drill teams, and dance. Each team has their own time slot throughout the week, and several teams consist of beginning and advanced levels.
Classes are $50 each month for tiny tots, and $65 each month for students ages 7 and up. Parents can enroll their children for multiple classes and drop-in visits are $10. Solorzano said she knows most organizations would charge much higher prices, but described her work as a labor of love.
“They’re in awe on how this functions,” she said, adding that some people expect a hidden cost or other income. “There is no money to be made in horses. They cost too much.”
She said the farrier was scheduled for the day after the interview at a cost of about $220 for two horses. The coaches are all volunteer, and dues paid by the advanced students all go toward the horses.
One class blends into the next, as older, more experienced students and coaches help the newcomers. Solorzano, who said she has been a homeschool teacher for many years, encourages teamwork in all students.
Students spend 15 minutes of each lesson cleaning stalls, grooming, and feeding the horses in addition to putting away the tack. Solorzano said the chores help create a sense of responsibility for her students.
Despite her background working on the family farm, Solorzano says she did not have experience with horses before starting her nonprofit. She said her parents previously owned the property that was once home to the Old McDonald farm.
Also on The Sentinel: Meet the man who’s beautifying Auburn Blvd one flower at a time
When she received a grant from the Hearst family to train with horses, Solorzano said she had found her calling.
“Came back and I said I think I know my job. Whether I like it or not, I think I know what I’m going to do,” she said. “I’m a Christian, and this is what God chose for me, and that’s what I’ve done all these years. Without a doubt.”
The family run organization has adopted many of the horses with what Solorzano called “problems.” She also trains other people’s horses, and described part of what her family does as a “recovery home for horses.”
“I love them and their problems and their hurt in their life,” she said. “We try and train that out of them and make them part of our team, and they are very special because of it.”
Although Solorzano was referring to the horses, the same can be said of some of her students.
“Kids that have been on drugs, kids that have been at parks with strange elderly men,” she recalled. “Their parents drove them up the driveway here, dropped them off and said ‘My kid needs help.’ And that was a 15-year-old young lady. She is now 21, still in the group, a horse lover, works with horses.”
Coach Jenna McCall said, “I think it definitely keeps you out of trouble. In our group we learn how to not be like public school, where you get there and you feel like you’re left out or that your bullied. They get here and it’s like a safe zone. We all treat each other like family and get along.”
Coach PJ Solorzano said he’s seen students gain confidence through the program: “No one is going to make fun of you or hurt you here,” he said. “You can be yourself and show off whatever is inside of you.”
Whether it is a dying horse or storm damage to the stable, Solorzano said the whole team comes together.
“They all intermix, and the older help the little,” she said. “That’s what makes it special. It’s really special because kids don’t do that anymore.”
Read part two of this local feature: Meet the team at CR Circle Ranch in Citrus Heights
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