HomePublicationGlendaleTaking the Reins Steers Young Women on Right Path

Taking the Reins Steers Young Women on Right Path

First published in the Jan. 8 print issue of the Glendale News Press.

Nestled along the L.A. River and just minutes from Glendale and downtown Los Angeles, area-nonprofit organization Taking the Reins is charging ahead in the New Year to empower more girls and young women through equine-based education.
Heading into its 24th year, Taking the Reins was founded at the Paddock Riding Club in Atwater Village by two horsewomen, Judith Hopkins and Debra Avery. The two women recognized the potential power of a downtown equestrian facility and the ability to serve nearby and under-served, urban girls. With the mission of “advancing girl power through horsepower,” the nonprofit later expanded to open a 2-acre facility next door along the L.A. River.
“I go to work each day and immerse myself in nature, my beloved horses and the wonder and energy of youth,” said Taking the Reins Executive Director Jane Haven, who worked as a psychologist for 30 years before deciding to combine her therapeutic knowledge with her passion for horses. “My career as a psychologist was filled with very meaningful work. Now, I have witnessed meaningful growth and healing for many of the children served in our program.”
Over the years the programs have expanded from equestrian riding to garden and animal husbandry, taking full advantage of the outdoor sciences and urban forest habitat the facility has access to. It has served thousands of girls and young women, ages 8-18, teaching responsibility and sharing knowledge while working with horses or in the urban farm. The nonprofit has partnered with Girl Scouts of America and many private and public schools in the San Gabriel Valley and Glendale area. It also offers workshops and summer camps.
Most of the participants are from so-called “high-risk neighborhoods” and 85% live below the poverty line and attend Title 1 schools. Haven noted that many parents who bring their children have to take a bus — or two — to participate in the after-school or weekend sessions, which last six weeks.
“A lot of the kids who come to us, they’ve never played in the dirt, never touched an animal, much less a horse,” Haven said. “The kids in this program have to be responsible and they have to rise to the occasion, and that’s a wonderful thing to witness.”
Haven said that of the children who stay with the program two years or more — about 40% of the after-school and weekend program attendees — there is a 100% on-time high school graduation rate. About 98% who apply to college get accepted, and most of those students are the first of their families to go to college. The list of schools is impressive — Stanford, Wellesley, schools all over California and many others around the country.
Members of Taking the Reins even marched in this year’s Rose Parade, at the invitation of the Arabian Horse Association.
“It’s a great thing to watch and gives me a wonderful optimism for the future,” said Haven, who was on the organization’s board of directors before becoming executive director in 2013, the same year the organization moved into its current location. “We attract a wide spectrum of girls of different levels of ability, but it’s the kind of program where they have a chance to make a difference.”
“We present learning in a hands-on, engaged physical way that allows us to address certain behaviors that are harder to help in a school setting,” she continued. “Then, when they go back to the classroom, they just participate more. They are more empowered.”
Working with the 13 horses is a focal point, but some of the girls really like working in the garden, she said. These days, the 1.4-acre garden area is used to grow food to distribute in boxes to local families and homeless shelters.
Danielle Garcia is one of those girls that Haven points to with pride. Now a semester away from graduating from the University of California, Santa Cruz, Garcia started participating at Taking the Reins when she was 11 and sharing a bunk bed in a Koreatown studio apartment with her mom.
“I was an only child and left to my own devices,” Garcia recalled.
But she loved horses and learned about Taking the Reins after discovering that taking riding lessons typically cost more than she could possibly afford. So, she started taking the bus to attend Taking the Reins.
“I met so many people who changed my life,” Garcia said. “It became like my family. I never have been in a place compared to it. I grew up to become an advocate for myself and to become an example to other girls.”
Garcia received a scholarship, to which she credits Haven’s connections, and she said Haven helped her get her expenses paid when she first moved to college. She has ridden for the college equestrian team and placed second nationally. Garcia has also competed as a judge in a national Arabian horse show in Oklahoma City. It was the first time she’d been on an airplane.
“Doing the judging has really boosted my public speaking and my confidence,” she said.
Garcia is home now because of the pandemic and is working as an instructor.
“I see myself as a role model. A lot of the girls know my story,” she said. “I’ve gotten letters from them telling me how much they have progressed. They are really special to me.
“The girls told me that they might not have finished school, if they had not gotten in Taking the Reins,” Garcia added. “I saw myself in them.”

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