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Swiftsure Ranch Hedges Against that ‘One Fall’
Kim Nalen checks out a board that offers information about the horses that supporters can sponsor for a year.
Friday, July 22, 2022


Dominik Bashista-Gibbs endured eight surgeries on his legs as a youngster—surgeries that forced him to sit in a wheelchair while he watched his friends run and play.

But he had a few friends that could erase that pain—1,200-pound therapists at Swiftsure Ranch Therapeutic Equestrian Center. In time, he learned to ride these horses independently without help from the volunteers who originally accompanied him.

He learned all the horses by name and breed as he learned to groom and feed them. And the confidence he gained sorting cows from a saddle atop these horses gave him the courage to try other things, such as snow skiing and waterskiing.

Dominik Bashista-Gibbs pets Pal.

Now, as a teenager, he’s an intern at Swiftsure, and he says it’s giving him a purpose in life.

“I love it. I like the horses. I like how I feel when I come here,” said Bashista, who has learned to walk despite the spina bifada he was born with.

Dominik was on hand to greet those who turned out for the 31st annual Cowboy Ball, which raises the funds for the nonprofit therapeutic equestrian center, which sits on 191 acres south of Bellevue.

The ranch provides free lessons to 110 adult and child riders each week who deal with a variety of challenges ranging from Parkinson’s disease to post traumatic stress.

Sindy Burke, who used to work in therapeutic recreation and rehab in Utah, shows off her knee-length cowboy boots as the guests begin to arrive.

The rhythmic motion of the horses resembles the human walking gait, helping riders to improve muscle tone, balance and coordination. And the horses not only bond well with humans but are sensitive enough to pick up subtle signals given off by their riders.

This helps them offer a soothing horse-human connection, but it also forces the riders to learn things like impulse control, how to relax and teamwork, even as the activity teaches them things like sequencing and problem solving.

“What they do for the special needs community is amazing,” said Kim Nalen, who has sponsored one of the horse therapists.

This particular Cowboy Ball evoked the nostalgia of old Western movies, with movie posters of Tom Mix and other Western stars spread throughout the arena. Tables featured clapboards, boxes of popcorn, Milk Duds and other popular movie treats.

Teagen Palmer, Hagan Barsch, Dani Savaria and KJ Savaria were among numerous young people attending the event.

And Sun Valley Resort’s “Yellowjackets,” aka guest service people, served up cherry wood smoked brisket and pork belly baked beans.

The silent auction table featured such items as Smith sunglasses and a Bullhead necklace, along with Bellevue saddlemaker Jack Sept’s hand-tooled chinks—shortened chaps named after the Spanish vaquero word for “little armor.”

Supporters were generous, ponying up $34,000 for a trip for eight to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, complete with private air travel on a Gulfstream 280, hotel stay and a chance to explore the Cowboy Christmas, the official gift show of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and perhaps the largest Western shopping extravaganza found under one roof.

Two separate individuals offered $12,500 for a chance to stay at a private home wrapped around a private pool and spa on Hawaii’s Big Island, and others went for a Keith Urban concert in San Francisco and a horse clinic for cowgirls complete with Rocketbuster boots.

Kate Rosekrans and Nancy Glick show off Jack Sept’s Spanish vaquero chaps, which are shorter than traditional western chaps to allow freedom of movement.

The paddle up brought in $219, 500—more than the original goal of $200,000.

“All it takes is one fall and you can be special needs, veteran Phil Mabry told the audience.

Board President Charlotte Westendorf and Leslie Benz paraded out Patches, a horse that has been serving Swiftsure for 16 years.

The horses work with those from the Idaho State School for the Deaf and Blind, as well as local schoolchildren, Westendorf noted.

“All the lessons are free. But we’ve got to take care of the employees, this place, feed for the horses,” she added. “Without these horses, none of this happens.”


Swiftsure Ranch has been awarded the 2022 Platinum Seal of Transparency by GuideStar, which provides information on thousands of nonprofits. Just 1 percent of registered nonprofits are awarded this status.

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