A taste of Argentina can be found this year at the eagerly anticipated Cowboy Ball. The 14th annual Sagebrush Arena Therapeutic Riding Program fund-raiser comes complete with a Gaucho theme.
The nomadic and colorful horsemen of the Argentinean Pampa, who flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries, have remained folk heroes similar to the North American cowboy. Famed for hardiness and lawlessness, they roamed the vast grass-covered plain in South America and now they're on their way to Hailey.
Revelers at the "Gaucho" Cowboy Ball on July 14 will find one half of Sagebrush's indoor arena north of Hailey transformed into a home away from home for Gauchos. The other half will be representative of a very colorful district of Buenos Aires called La Boca.
"Because the Gaucho theme is pretty limited and not easy to decorate to, we sort of incorporated the whole Argentine theme and therefore Buenos Aires and the tango," explained Beverley DeChevrieux, who is in charge of transforming this horse haven into a sophisticated ballroom. "It'll be kind of fun! We've got some interesting decorations and a larger-than-life sized horse sculpture of running horses called "Running Wild" by Montana artist Jim Dolan, that has been loaned to us by Gallery Oscar."
Also in keeping with the theme is the evening's entertainment. Javier Padial, a classical flamenco guitarist who will play during the cocktail hour and accompany the headline entertainment, Argentine born "tangueros" (tango dancers) Eva Lucero and Patricio Touceda.
The dynamic duo will perform a scintillating variety of classic Argentine tangos. Dancing together for four years, the pair has performed in and choreographed many international tango productions including "Tanguera" in Buenos Aires, "Forever Tango" in Japan, and "Malambo" in San Francisco. Additionally, Touceda contributed to the movies "Tango" and "Evita."
"These are very high-level entertainers in the field of tango and we think that will be a big draw to a lot of people who wouldn't ordinarily come" continued DeChevrieux.
Local chefs Ric Lum, David Fox and Chris Share will prepare a specifically Argentine dinner menu. After dinner the live auction takes place. Items up for grabs include: a trip to Argentina, incorporating four days at the Hilton Buenos Aires and a three-day trip to Patagonia, donated by Silver Creek Adventures; tickets to the national rodeo finals in Las Vegas; a "Sideways" wine tasting trip to Santa Ynez, Calif.; and a thoroughbred trip to Lexington, Ky., including premium box seats at the Keeneland Race Track. Following the auction, guests will return to North America with a chance to dance to the country sounds of the Idaho-based Johnny Uratia Band.
However, behind all the fun to be found at Hailey's very own Pampa next week, there is a serious message. The Cowboy Ball is the biggest fund-raiser of the year for The Sagebrush Equine Training Center for the Handicapped. A nonprofit corporation, SETCH helps children and adults with physical, mental and emotional disabilities by providing equine therapy and recreation. SETCH does not charge for its services. Instead, it relies entirely on donations and the Cowboy Ball.
"As the years have gone by, 13 or 14 now, we've gone from about 20 kids (in the program) to 300." explained Patty Carter, former president of SETCH and now chairwoman of the Cowboy Ball. "We've gone from a cost to run the program of about $25,000 a year to about $300,000 a year."
Former Junior Wimbledon champion Kristy Pigeon built the Sagebrush Arena and developed the therapeutic riding program in the summer of 1991. She moved to Idaho with a goal to buy a house, a dog and a horse, but segued into a house, a dog and a riding stable through her desire to share the serenity of the Sawtooth Mountains and the healing power of horses with challenged individuals.
And she has done so. SETCH has a list of success stories that brings tears to the eyes. One such story is of little Emma, born with Larsen Syndrome, a rare genetic disease characterized by multiple dislocations of the major joints, whose doctors doubted she would ever walk. After two years of hard work at Sagebrush, "she now walks like a big star," said Pigeon.
Another is of a troubled young man who came to Sagebrush through its Youth Horsemanship program for "at risk" youth after he took a gun to school. The boy went from rebellious, motionless contemplation of the muck he was supposed to rake to gradually becoming an integral member of the Sagebrush team. Along the way, he "discovered that there were people in this world who had problems greater than what he had," said Pigeon.
Riding is so beneficial to individuals with motor-orientated disabilities because it simulates a human walking gait. The physical therapeutic value of riding a horse comes from the multi-directional up, down, left, right movement that occurs when you are being led on a horse. This movement forces you to constantly make minor adjustments to your balance, your posture and your trunk. Therefore, you are developing strength working on coordination and, most importantly, balance, said Pigeon.
For individuals who have some spasticity (an involuntarily muscle reaction), riding a horse in a therapeutic situation is proven to reduce the affliction.
"Muffy Davis (a Paralympic skier) used to ride with us three times a week. Before she started riding, she was on very heavy medication to reduce her spasticity. That medication also makes you tired, sleepy and lethargic. The more she rode, she found she could reduce her spasticity and her medication, down to not having to take any, which improved her overall function."
One of SETCH's many programs is its winter rehabilitation program for people who have had serious injuries.
"We have one young man, Jesse Matey, in the program who was in a coma for four months. At 17 years old, he suffered a massive head injury from a car accident. When he started riding last December, he needed to have a back rider (a person behind him on the horse supporting him) because he has absolutely no muscle tone whatsoever.
"Just last week, we rigged up a system which includes a new neck brace so now he can ride independently. We're hoping to see a huge improvement in his condition now because he's having to respond by himself to that movement of the horse."
Alongside the actual physical therapy of riding, bonding with the horse is also part of the treatment.
"About a month ago, the first real voluntary movement that he's made (with the exception of blinking because that's how he communicates) was made here. While he was waiting to ride he raised his hand to pet the horse. That was a momentous time for his parents and for us."
The "Gaucho" Cowboy Ball to benefit the Sagebrush Arena Therapeutic Riding Program (SETCH) will be held at the Sagebrush Arena on Buttercup Road, north of Hailey, on Thursday, July 14. The festivities begin at 6 p.m. and include cocktails, an Argentine dinner, live music, dancing, a tango show, and a silent and live auction. Tickets are $150 per person (of which $100 is tax deductible). Call 578-9111, ext. 107.