Jefferson Award Winner Founded SpiritHorse RanchBy Allen Martin

AMERICAN CANYON (KPIX 5) Charlotte Dougherty is a big believer in second chances for horses. The 53-year-old mother and grandmother founded the non-profit SpiritHorse Ranch in 2006, filling the stables with rescued horses. There, Dougherty and 20 other volunteers offer low cost and no cost therapeutic riding lessons to those with special needs.

Dougherty is an abuse survivor, and she is also in recovery from addiction. Though her journey has been tough, Dougherty is a big believer in giving back, and giving people second chances too. So she offers free day camps at the ranch to about 300 Bay Area students every year, including others in recovery, children with cancer, veterans with PTSD and other needs, homeless families, and girls in the foster care system.

“I had got off track in my life,” explained Dougherty.” The whole time I was on the wrong path I was searching for something and this was it.”

Some of Dougherty’s riders have autism, like Valentina Williams. The preteen has been riding with Dougherty since she was a small child. Williams’ mother, Nancy Lopez, says her daughter thrives with Dougherty in the ring.

“It’s helped her through her fears,” said Lopez. “I knew that Charlotte had her and I could take a moment and just breathe, that she was okay. So for me that was everything.”

To Williams, Dougherty is like a second mom.

“She’s nice,” said Williams. “She makes me happy.”

Dougherty has been sober 9 years, and she credits her students and horses for much of her success.

“I am there to empower them. I want to empower them with horses. If you can sit there and learn to ride a 1200 pound animal, or learn to lead a 1200 pound animal, that is like a huge accomplishment. Not many people can do that,’ explained Dougherty. “And I hope that that gives them the confidence to know that they can accomplish anything that comes at them in life.”

SpiritHorse is run entirely on community donations. Dougherty works full time cleaning houses but still comes to the ranch everyday to care for the horses.

Lessons are typically held on the weekends, and the free camps are scheduled mainly in the summer. The land for the ranch is leased from the City of American Canyon. Dougherty says her big dream is to expand into two locations so she can serve more students.

So for inspiring others to overcome obstacles in their own lives by offering therapeutic horse riding lessons, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Charlotte Dougherty.