Tucson soon will have two riding stables with similar long-term goals: teaching equestrians while using some ranch proceeds to help people and animals.
TRAK recently moved from its former home, at 3230 N. Craycroft Road, to a bigger, north-side establishment at 3250 E. Allen Road, where the staff plans to expand its philanthropic services, both on site and off.
And on Tucson’s east side, the longtime home of Pantano Stables, at 4450 S. Houghton Road, is being renovated to become Medella Vina Ranch.
The property’s new owner, Grae Verlin, said health, wine and horses will be the central themes at her establishment, which will also include a yoga studio, a tea room, Pilates classes and a Zen garden. She plans to maintain a Western theme as well.
“I’m bringing a little bit of New York here with me here while, at the same time, really embracing Tucson,” she said.
Verlin purchased the Pantano Stables property from the first owner, Betty Shinn, for $1.2 million in February, according to Pima County Recorder’s Office records. Shinn, who is in her 80s and now living in northeastern Arizona, ran the establishment since 1970 with her husband, Jim, who died in 2006.
Pantano Stables offered both self-care and full-care boarding, as well as English and Western riding lessons and trail riding. There was a feed store on the property, and an RV park where boarders could live. Weddings were also carried out on the property.
Verlin is already offering English and Western riding instruction. She said her operation will use an approach called Harmony with Horses, which starts with students learning to connect with the horse on the ground before getting in the saddle.
“During the classes, the participant learns how to feel safe and confident around a horse,” Verlin wrote in an email, describing the approach. “It’s amazing how after the very first lesson, a novice will feel more relaxed around a horse then they would have imagined.”
Verlin, the widow of wine collector and New York City restaurateur Steven Verlin, is re-creating the Pantano Stables wedding park, now called Kallista Park at Medella Vina Ranch.
Beer and wine events will also be held on the ranch as an offshoot of her wine company, Have Fun Wine-ing with Grae.
“In addition to wine events, I will also be hosting high tea and tea party birthday parties in the park,” she said. “Aside from providing petit fours and tea, the little ones will have fancy dresses, tiaras, and assorted jewelry to wear while enjoying the park.”
There will be one barn on the property dedicated to equine rescue, which she plans to call Medella Horse Rescue.
In addition to the equine rescue, she wants to help underprivileged children by providing them with a two-week summer camp. She also plans to provide equine therapy for veterans.
Most of Verlin’s efforts right now are on cleaning up the site, but by September she hopes to have completed a new arena, a new feed store and consignment tack shop, with a portion of sales going to horse rescue. She also hopes to have completed new outdoor pens and turnouts for the horses, a renovated 10-stall boarding barn and an obstacle arena.
Lastly, Verlin is landscaping the front of the property and the entranceway, and putting in a vegetable garden she hopes to use to help local soup kitchens.
TRAK, which stands for Therapeutic Ranch for Animals and Kids, moved at the end of March after retired Pima County Superior Court Judge Deborah Ward offered the use of nearly five acres including a barn, stalls, an arena and turn-out enclosures.
TRAK, which was founded by Jill Prickett in 2007, includes Western riding lessons.
Instructor Chelsea Menke, who is also the program director, said the money taken in for the riding lessons goes mostly toward the care and feeding of the animals.
This, in turn, enables TRAK to offer summer camps and services to local groups including behavioral health providers, schools, special education programs and visits to pediatric patients, nursing home residents, Tucson Medical Center and the Ronald McDonald House.
Many of the children and adults being helped live with physical and emotional disabilities.
There are about 100 animals including miniature donkeys, miniature horses, chickens, rabbits, goats, sheep, pigs and, of course, regular horses.
TRAK employee Sarah Baillie said the new facility is nicer for the animals and the children, with more space and more shade.
“We’re hoping to be able to be able to grow our programs and to be able to benefit the community better,” she said. “We’re really excited. Our main goal is to increase service visits.”