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Maddie Porath bridles Lucky, a Gypsy Vanner therapy horse Thursday south of Twin Falls.

Big changes on the horizon for Rising Stars Therapeutic Riding Center


Lucky of LexLin trotted easily around an arena Thursday south of Twin Falls, her leg feathers, tail and mane blowing in a gentle breeze.


Her rider, Madalyn Porath, rose slightly in the saddle with every other clomp, smoothing the ride.

“Her gait is a little different (from a saddle horse),” Madalyn said. “She rides more like a draft horse.”


Maddie Porath rides Lucky, a Gypsy Vanner therapy horse, Thursday south of Twin Falls.

The 8-year-old Gypsy Vanner horse will soon make herself at home at Rising Stars Therapeutic Riding Center‘s new facility southwest of town. For now, she’s staying at Madalyn’s grandparents Chris and Jerry Dickard’s small farm southeast of Twin Falls.

The nonprofit organization won the mare last year from LexLin Gypsy Ranch in Rockwood, Tenn., in a national online contest. Since 2009, LexLin’s “Gift Horse” program has donated 65 Vanners to spread the awareness of the breed as therapy horses.

Small program

with a big dream

Lucky had never been ridden before coming to Idaho last summer in the Dickards’ horse trailer. Now she’s well on her way to becoming a therapy horse at Rising Stars’ new, yet unnamed, facility.

“There’s still a lot to do at the new place,” said Madalyn’s aunt, Director Marni Porath. “We’d like to see the outdoor arena open by June 1.”


Director Marni Porath introduces clients to Lucky Aug. 1 at Rising Stars Therapeutic Riding Center in Twin Falls.

The Vanner breed is “unflappable,” the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society says. Bred by Gypsies after World War II to pull caravans, the horses are known for their short, muscular bodies and calm disposition.

“We love seeing the impact this amazing breed has in therapy programs,” Suzy Brown, with LexLin Gypsy Ranch, told the Times-News last year. “They’re perfectly suited for the work with their size and temperaments.”

Though Lucky is a pretty mare, she wasn’t chosen for her looks.

“She is so gentle,” said Madalyn, a dental hygiene student at the College of Southern Idaho.


Volunteer Bob Rynbrand introduces Hannah Miller, 11, to Lucky, a Gypsy Vanner therapy horse, Aug. 1 at Rising Stars Therapeutic Riding Center in Twin Falls. Rising Stars won Lucky in an online competition.

Therapy horses are an invaluable tool used to change the lives of people with special needs.

Lucia Pixton’s son, Carson, is 4 years old. His autism had rendered him nonverbal.

“We weren’t seeing a ton of progress with speech therapy until he started therapy at Rising Stars last summer,” Pixton said. “Then he started speaking more and his personality grew. He has made leaps and bounds since attending hippotherapy.”

Carson first found horseback riding a little out of his comfort zone, his mother said, but he adores the horses now.

That’s understandable, longtime volunteer Bob Rynbrand said Friday.

“The motion of the horse helps strengthen the client’s core muscles and enables the rider to feel the motion of walking,” Rynbrand said.

Now, Carson “hates having to get off the horses,” Pixton said. “He’d ride all day if we’d let him.”

Children aren’t the only ones who benefit from hippotherapy and therapeutic riding. Adults with special needs say that riding has opened up new worlds for them.

Rising Stars has been a great addition to Donna Grasso’s autism, space and sensory therapies. She’s been riding with Rising Stars’ help for years.

“They help me with my balance, self-confidence and self-esteem,” Grasso said. “And I have fun.”


Volunteer Stan White, with Norco Industrial, welds horse corrals April 21 at Rising Stars Therapeutic Riding Center's new facility southwest of Twin Falls.

New facility, new name, new volunteers

For years, Rising Stars has served some 90 clients, offering hippotherapy and therapeutic horseback riding at Stargazer Arena south of Twin Falls. But last summer the organization purchased 20 acres with a barn and pastures — and the new facility needs a new name.

A few of the suggestions have come in on Rising Stars’ Facebook page, including Riding High Ranch, Hope Ranch, Star Gate Ranch, Majestic Acres, Rainbow Ranch and Rising Star Ranch. The board of directors has been busy getting ready for the new facility’s grand opening in June, Marni Porath said, and haven’t had time to make a decision.

The nonprofit is also looking for volunteers to build fence, paint and do other chores before the grand opening, as well as volunteers to help clients and walk horses, including Lucky.


Lucky, a Gypsy Vanner therapy horse, looks around Thursday south of Twin Falls.

This Carey School alumnus came to the United States at age 11 speaking little English. Now, he’s ISU’s ‘Undergraduate Student of the Year.'

CAREY — Ten years ago, Adolfo Andazola arrived in Carey as a sixth-grader with few English language skills.

But he quickly found his footing. In 2015, he graduated from Carey School in Blaine County as salutatorian and student body president. Now, he just wrapped up his junior year at Idaho State University and wants to become a physician.

The 20-year-old was named ISU’s “Undergraduate Student of the Year” during a ceremony April 23, part of the university’s “Benny Award,” named after the school’s mascot.

Andazola is double majoring in medical laboratory science and Spanish for the health professions, seeking a bachelor’s degree in each one.

“I want to use those two to form a solid foundation in my medical profession, basically,” he said Thursday. He plans to apply to medical schools next year.

After medical school, he wants to return to Idaho to become a family physician, primarily serving the Latino community by providing “medical services in their language and understanding their background,” he said.

He has dreamed of being a physician for years. “That has been my goal since I can remember, actually,” he said.

ISU pre-health adviser Jacque Baergen nominated Andazola for the award, which she described as “very selective.”

“The call for nominations came in my email and I immediately thought of him,” she said. “He’s a self-starter. He looks for opportunities and seeks them out. It’s what med schools are looking for.”

‘One of the toughest stages in my life’

In 2008, when was 11 years old, Andazola’s family moved to the United States from Chihuahua, Mexico. His father — a ranch hand — was already working in Carey, and Andazola and his mother had the opportunity to join him.

Adjusting to a new country as a sixth-grader with no English language skills wasn’t smooth sailing.

“That was probably one of the toughest stages in my life,” Andazola said. “I had to start from zero. I had to learn to read, write and speak all over again. But I think, thanks to that challenge, that made me the person I am now.”

Initially, he didn’t think going to college was possible. He was focused on learning the English language.

“He spoke very little English, but was an example of how to work,” Carey School Principal John Peck said Friday.

Carey social studies teacher Lane Kirkland wrote in an email to the Times-News: “Adolfo was about perfection in all he did. His inquisitive mind, attention to detail and exactness assisted him in fully comprehending every bit of instruction he received in school.”

Andazola was Carey School’s first Latino student body president, winning as a write-in candidate. He said he’s proud of accomplishing that and wanted to overcome stereotypes on behalf of his Latino classmates by serving in an elected role. “I wanted to show them it is possible.”

By the time Andazola graduated from high school, he was salutatorian, meaning he had the second-highest GPA in his class. He had a 4.0, but the valedictorian — Peck’s son — had a few more dual credits from college-level classes.

Peck said one of the things he remembers about Andazola’s graduation speech was “he said he’s definitely not one of the smartest students here, but I learned to work hard.”

Andazola was considering going to medical school in Mexico due to the lower cost. But thanks to scholarships he received, he decided to stay in the United States, and was accepted to Boise State University and Idaho State University. He chose ISU.

College life

In addition to his studies at ISU, Andazola is chapter president of the university’s National Society of Collegiate Scholars and secretary for Pre-Health Professions Association. He was recently elected by his peers to be president of both groups next school year.

For spring break this year, he organized a group of five volunteers from ISU to help with reconstruction efforts in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. They focused on reforestation — trying to restore native vegetation.

Andazola said he hopes to continue with the project for years to come. He has already received emails from people who are interested in participating next year, and he hopes to have a group of 10-15 people on the trip.

He wrapped up his spring classes Thursday at ISU and is home in Carey for a break. On May 19, he heads to the University of Texas at El Paso to do neuroscience research for 11 weeks. The summer program accepts only about 10 students from across the nation.

Andazola said his goal is to attend medical school in Texas, and the research opportunity will be a way to get to know people and open doors. “I’m excited about the opportunity.”

Andazola is the ideal pre-med student, Baergen said, but he shows impressive humility. “He doesn’t brag about these opportunities he finds. If all my students were like Adolfo, I’d be out of a job.”


Kimberly's Shae Coston throws to first against Filer during the SCIC title game Friday in Kimberly.

Cassia school leader looks back at 39 years with the district

BURLEY — Cassia County School District Superintendent Gaylen Smyer had the early markings of a leader. After 39 years as an agriculture science teacher, director of Cassia Regional Technical Center and school district superintendent, he will spend his last day at the district on June 29.

“It’s both exciting and scary,” said Smyer, adding that he doesn’t have any post-retirement plans yet. “I don’t know what the future holds for me, but hopefully I can contribute in meaningful ways. This is the first time since I was 16 years old that I don’t have definite plans.”

Smyer grew up in Declo and graduated from Declo High School, where he was active in the agriculture program and FFA.

He remembers his former Declo agriculture teacher Richard Garrard telling the class that community service is the rent paid for the space they take up.

Smyer took it heart and it became his philosophy.

“He was an outstanding ag student,” Garrard said. “He was the FFA president his senior year. He could have been senior class president, but he chose to be FFA president instead.”

Smyer taught agriculture science at Burley High School, was the vocational coordinator for the district and provided the vision to launch the technical center after the district’s passage of the 1996 construction bond. For his work, he was named the center’s first director, and also taught automated manufacturing classes at the center.

Each year, the center took examples of the students’ best work to the Idaho Legislature to showcase what was being accomplished at the school. He measured his success, he said, through the success of his students and teachers.

Laurie Welch Times-News / LAURIE WELCH, TIMES-NEWS  

Cassia County School District Superintendent Gaylen Smyer talks about his 39-year career with the district at his office on May 5.

He also worked to help secure grants to develop of the center’s programs.

Tom Schmitt, who teaches game-app programming at the center, said Smyer hired him.

“He was fun to work with and brought everyone together,” Schmitt said. “He was instrumental in keeping a good comradery going.”

During his 11 years as school district superintendent, he helped the district weather several storms as state money shrunk, teachers were charged with crimes and an architect underestimated construction costs, resulting in a $14 million shortage for school upgrades.

“You can’t always control what happens, but you can control how you react to it. I believe in accountability, and then you learn from your mistakes,” Smyer said. “We tried to bounce back from those things and put procedures and protocol in place to protect students and teachers.”

During the economic downturn, the district reduced staff and took pay cuts.

“Other than shortening the school year we were able to get by without taking anything else away from students,” Smyer said.

But mostly, he said, he has fond memories of his time with the district and few regrets.

“My advice to someone coming to the district would be to immerse themselves in the community cultures and understand the individual needs in each community. You have to be able to pull those communities together, because that’s what gives us strength. That’s the unity part of community,” Smyer said. “I had the benefit of growing up here, so I understood the communities.”

500-year-old skeletons headed for Native American tribes

BOISE — Two 500-year-old skeletons discovered in Idaho’s high desert plains will be turned over to Native American tribes.

U.S. officials in a series of notices starting Friday say the remains of the young adult and child will be given to the interrelated Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in eastern Idaho and the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes in southern Idaho and northern Nevada.

The notices start a process allowing other tribes to make claims until June 28. The remains, currently being held in a secured federal facility in Boise, will be transferred to the selected tribes if no other tribes come forward.

“We’ve always pointed out that we’ve been here for thousands of years,” Shoshone-Paiute Tribes Chairman Ted Howard said in an interview before U.S. officials announced his tribe would receive the remains. “For our tribe and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, those are the remains of our people, our ancestors. That’s how we feel.”

Other tribes that expressed an interest in the remains were northern Idaho’s Nez Perce Tribe, the Burns Paiute Tribe of eastern Oregon, the Confederated Tribes of the Warms Springs Reservation in central Oregon, and the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribes of the Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation in Nevada and Oregon.

Those tribes didn’t respond to inquiries from The Associated Press. U.S. officials said those tribes deferred to the tribes selected to receive the remains but declined to elaborate, citing the confidentiality of the government-to-government communications.

“We recognize that this is a sensitive situation for them,” said Amanda Hoffman, manager of the 760-square-mile Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. The remains were found on the conservation area, which contains several notable Native American rock art sites dating back centuries.

The skeletons were discovered in dry sagebrush steppe in April 2017, by an Idaho Department of Fish and Game worker checking ground squirrel hunters’ licenses about 5 miles from Mountain Home. A badger digging into the squirrels’ burrows apparently exposed some bones.

The bones were in such good condition that Idaho authorities initially treated the southwestern Snake River Plain site as a possible crime scene. Authorities said they were either dealing with a double homicide that had happened in recent decades, bones from pioneers who died in the 19th century while traveling along the nearby Oregon Trail or the remains of Native Americans from that era or earlier.

Five days after the initial discovery, law enforcement officials as well as archaeologists returned and did a more thorough examination and discovered additional remains. Officials said they found no cultural items to indicate the remains belonged to Native Americans.

But carbon dating tests from a lab in Florida found the young adult and the child or teen lived sometime during the 1400s to 1600s. Elmore County investigators were so surprised that they sent bone samples to be checked at another lab in Arizona, which returned similar results.

U.S. officials in the public notices give the approximate range of the remains from 1436 to 1522 and said that’s based on overlapping dates from the two sets of remains. Testing on the remains stopped after their age became known. The cause of death isn’t known.

Following the carbon dating, the U.S Bureau of Land Management took possession of the remains and began a process spelled out in the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act to return the remains to a tribe.

That is expected to occur sometime this summer if no other tribes object.