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"We have been cutting for only about a year now and you taught us so much in one week!"
~ Karen and Wayne Harris, Prosser, WA

"I could not have possibly found a better place to come and learn the basics of cutting and make the transition from polo. If I had not found Leon I do not think I would have continued cutting. "
~ Alison Colquhoun,
Franktown, CO

"What a great environment to be learning in! The 6 or more horses that I rode while I was there were all outstanding and I am forever grateful to them. "
~Benn Watson, Scone,
NSW, Australia

"I worked 70 head of cattle on six horses in 3 days with Leon. I'm amazed at how much we accomplished and feel so much more confident as a cutter after having this experience!"
~ Tricia

"After 4 days with Leon, he completely turned me around and got me back on track!"
 ~Terri Gillat, Boulder, CO



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A typical Saturday at the ranch:

  • Starting around 8:30 approximately 15-20 children begin showing up, they are dropped off by adults/CASAs/ drivers/social workers.
  • A few of the parents are volunteers at the ranch and help to develop, repair and maintain it in their spare time. Some stay and watch for awhile, others drop off and pick up at 5.
  • The children are split into 3 groups (with others who have similar skill levels) and are then sent off with a designated instructor for their riding lessons.  ​
  • At about 11am they are all told to put their horses up and come to the "talk" which focuses on raising the children's awareness of themselves and the way they affect and influence others, communication, how to deal with difficult situations and individuals, how their personalities and life situations are reflected in their relationship with their horses, how to help others and focusing on developing an attitude of "paying things forward".
  • Lunch time, they bring their own
  • Another "talk" usually pertaining to an issue someone in the group is having.
  • More riding/lessons
  • Put horses away, clean tack, clean up, tidy up
  • Adults/CASAs/ drivers/social workers drop off early and pick up about 4 - 5p.m.


Showcutters For Kids – A fun and easy concept
by Alexandria Harrel

Recently, Texas and cutting horses took on a whole new meaning for three lovely young ladies from the Challenge Ranch nestled in the hills just outside San Diego.

The week before Christmas 2012, Jane Tomczak and three of the eldest girls in her Challenge Ranch program flew to Ft. Worth, Texas to be our guests for four days. We were about to introduce them to cutting horses for the very first time in their lives. Aside from the video I sent them, they had never seen such a spectacle of flying dirt and hooves before.

From the moment Jane and the girls saw the Christmas lights coming up the drive at midnight, they suspected the next few days would be unlike any they’d ever known. The girl’s riding background was entirely english and under Jane’s keen and loving eye, their horsemanship was exceptional. The 14 and 15 year olds had never set foot in Texas and had only a week prior spent an afternoon being introduced to a western saddle and some basic neck reining by John Van Aken, their beloved ranch farrier.

Funding was pooled on Jane’s end to cover the flights, and we got the girls outfitted for the occasion with their own brand new pairs of cowboy boots and blingy spurs. (Both of which they were rarely out of for the entire visit! Not sure if they slept in them, but I wouldn’t doubt it.) Each girl was given her own lovely guestroom, however, in spite of that option, the bff’s spent every night huddled together in a queen size bed giggling and chatting themselves to sleep.

On the first day it’s all about getting the hang of western gear on new horses, combined with brand new horsemanship skills and preliminary flagwork. First thing’s first, stirrups and reins. It looks so easy in the video. A bit of struggling with that, feels so horribly unnatural. There are frequent collisions between horns and bellies every time they shift in the enormous saddle looking for a comfortable spot. In spite of excellent horsemanship skills, the foundational differences in both the girls’ and the horses’ training programs are obvious – at first.

Vast differences in backgrounds mean vast differences in language and communication skills. The same cues and signals used in one world don’t necessarily translate to another. It’s challenging to learn a new language. In an unfamiliar environment it makes it harder to let go mentally, trust emotionally and relax physically, for everyone involved. It’s painful to watch the first day, but after several hours of games and practice, the girls finally began to trust their horses enough to give them more slack and let them do their job.

By day four it all came together beautifully for a perfect day of filming. The progress the girls made was astounding! The combination of their already excellent horsemanship and 3 days of focused coaching was nothing short of amazing. Each and every one of us gained life enriching insights by stepping through this door together and discovering how limitless we truly are when the right attitude and the right support systems are brought together.

It’s not as easy as it looks! Cutting is very humbling that way. A well tuned horse can make anyone look good for a few calves, but after that, the work starts. The more horses you ride the steeper your learning curve. It’s a fact. It’s a painful process for some, but for those who embrace it, the doors of insight, feel and timing swing wide open. In this game, glimpses of paradise are offered fleetingly. Just enough to entice one to desire more. Then it’s up to the rider to choose between a frustrating path of hit or miss performance and a firm commitment to excel at something that requires the discipline of a serious artist in order to be anything other than mediocre.


Kelly, Bree and Sarah worked diligently to overcome their obstacles in a new environment and did a fabulous job. For children with limited financial resources, they proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that money can’t buy “try”. Their attitude and efforts put their performance ahead of regular cutters overnight and the results were undeniable. So many folks just want to write a check and show up without investing the hard work and focus necessary to succeed. They blame their trainers and their horses, when in reality they believe the hard work they’ve already put in – which enables them to write a check – is all they owe to their dream.

We rarely get to see the brightest and most talented in our sports arenas because the money factor prohibits so much talent from ever competing at the top levels. We are a nation resplendent with extraordinary children who lack financial privileges and advantages and who are almost entirely dependent on the kindness and generosity of strangers in order to pursue their dreams of greatness.

It’s fun, easy and feels great!

With a good trainer, young, bright, hungry minds in healthy bodies from economically and socially limited backgrounds are fertile ground for sharp learning curves when paired with good horses.

In only four days, three eager young women experienced our world of cutting horses for the first time and became remarkably proficient at it. The speed with which they picked it up was very impressive. The talent and try that these kids have is worthy of being fostered. If we are serious about investing in tomorrow, lack of wealth and influence should never preclude gifted members of our society from sharing the gifts they have with the world.

Our part in this story is simple. Showcutters For Kids (SFK) is a privately run independent incentive program. SKF is an exciting equine team working adventure that offers 3 fun and highly focused days of personal training for three children at a time.

It’s being offered as an incentive to strive for higher academic goals and to encourage positive modification of dysfunctional social behaviors in children from underprivileged homes, group homes and foster homes.

Our goal is to keep children on track in times of adversity and encourage them to succeed in overcoming their obstacles.

What little we did for these girls is already having a significant ripple effect in an important social arena over 1300 miles away. In addition to the girl’s new insights, the grades of the next batch of kids slated to head to Texas are already on the rise with the promise of this simple yet grand prize hovering on the horizon. We are at the forefront; however, our long term goal is to offer different types of equine incentive opportunities to these types of children.

Random acts of kindness are easier than you think and are responsible for transforming many lives. We can all participate in this type of “paying it forward” by sharing a small piece of our blessed lives with members of the Challenge Ranch or other similar programs that believe charity begins at home. America has many children with vast potential who would greatly benefit from healthy, positive experiences with horses. Perhaps even more so, they would also stand to benefit from quality time spent with people who appreciate their blessings and know what the world would be like if we all just did what little we could.


What makes the Challenge Ranch and Jane and Ron Tomczak so special? They have made a firm commitment to excel at something that is really setting them apart from traditional therapeutic approaches. 13 years ago, they opened their home and ranch to disadvantaged and underprivileged children caught up in America’s legal system.

The majority of these children are living transient, lonely lives, in and out of public institutions and numerous foster homes. When they turn 18, if they don’t have a permanent home, they are then turned out of the only home they’ve come to know. The system spits them out and they are officially on their own, usually with very little skill and education.

What Jane and Ron at the Challenge Ranch offer these kids is really making a difference in the youth’s perceptions of their options. Immense passion is the fuel that drives this extraordinary couple day in and day out. Making sure these children know they are both valuable and loved is their gift to the world and they live to prove to each and every child that the problems of the world around them are not their fault. They can still be, do and have whatever they want in life. Hope replaces hopelessness.

Unlike many successful equine therapy programs around the world today that are focused on physical, emotional and handicapped therapy, Challenge Ranch is somewhat unique in that it relies solely on volunteers, takes no state or federal funding whatsoever and focuses on able bodied children who have slipped through the cracks in our social welfare system.

Amidst the chaos of their lives, children oftentimes lose the three most important things their young souls need to thrive. Hope, confidence and the ability to trust. Jane and Ron earn their trust, re-introduce hope and build confidence where there is none in children from 8 to 18 years of age.


The Challenge Ranch program offers children a desperately needed break from their seemingly hopeless circumstances through an equine enhanced lifestyle. Jane teaches them not only to take care of their horses and equipment, but also to ride at a very competitive level. And what fantastic little riders they are! The Ranch even provides the proper clothing (donated) to the children so they immediately fit right in and hit the ground running.

About a third of the children that attend the ranch come from healthy, well balanced homes. Jane feels that in order for at risk children to overcome the challenges of their dysfunctional home lives, it’s important for them to experience firsthand what normal, healthy relationships look and feel like. The older kids who’ve been in the program the longest are the leaders who set the tone welcoming and initiating the new kids into the program. They guide and encourage the others to do the same. Without exception every participant is committed to mentoring and supporting each other and operating as one big family.
So far, the transformative effect on the lives of children from group and foster homes has been very impressive. It is oftentimes their only exposure to healthy, loving relationships and they are able to move beyond many of their antisocial issues almost immediately once they start attending the ranch.
Once the trust kicks in, the magic transformation from believing “I’m worthless, no one cares about me, I’m disposable” to “I’m worthy, people care about and love me, I have something to offer” starts to take place. Grades, posture and complexions improve, excess weight drops off, temperaments stabilize. Overall health improves, eye contact is made, tight lips turn upward in the corners every so often and nervous smiles melt into soft laughter. Most noticeable is the twinkle in their eyes that shows itself in spurts at first then grows brighter and more consistent over time. If you pay close attention, you can actually feel the healing of their young souls as yours joins in the chorus.

Jane attributes her innate knowledge of what these kids really need and crave to her own painfully difficult childhood. She has an insider’s personal perspective and a big heart full of love and compassion. Her energy never ceases, her eyes are electric; she never stops moving. Her heart’s on fire. Failure is never an option. She has the most unique way of seeing the silver lining and the road to “YES” in every situation. A more positive, upbeat individual you will be hard pressed to find. Jane will not stand for an ounce of negativity without a pound and a half of something positive to counter balance it. Absolutely anything is possible for anyone who’s willing to work for it and Jane is an ardent believer of that philosophy. She is living proof, so she knows of that which she speaks.

What better role models for the children who flock to the Ranch to explore a life offering hope and love outside the despair of their daily existence? Ron and Jane are the kind, respectful and loving surrogate parents most of these kids never had and they welcome each and every individual into their lives with the same enthusiasm and compassion they have for all those who came before them.

The San Diego Courts have supported the Challenge Ranch and the Tomczaks in successful attempts to keep the children from being completely swallowed up by the well meaning, yet admittedly inadequate Department of Children and Family Services.

What most people don’t know is that when children are removed from their homes and processed into the system, they are almost always medicated with anti-depressants and sleeping aids, sometimes excessively. The policy to medicate is in place to keep them submissive enough to avoid disruptive behavior. These medications have known side effects of drowsiness, anxiety, lack of mental focus, short term memory problems, depression and suicidal tendencies.

The kids are often treated accordingly as if the side effects were actual characteristics inherent in the individual. In an hour or less in their first therapy session, they may be labeled ADHD, ADD, autistic, bi-polar, etc. They may be deemed incapable of learning, disruptive, uncooperative, angry, unresponsive. The very system designed to save and protect them litters their lives and alters their futures with many new obstacles in the form of unfair labels. Most of the children have no one to champion their cause for them. They are powerless to resist without making things worse. Reduced to being a case file, they are completely alone.

It is a double tragedy that’s piled on these precious children at such a young age. However, typically within two to three weeks, Challenge Ranch participants are oftentimes able to persuade their counselors to reduce their medication. Also, the need for twice or more weekly therapy sessions for depression, anger and other behavioral issues declines and sometimes diminishes altogether.

The courts have realized that a weekly trip to Challenge Ranch for a day is in many cases enough to reduce and sometimes eliminate the need for harmful methods of subduing children whose lives have become chaotic and unstable. At the three month mark, some much sooner, previously mislabeled children are proving to themselves and the world that they are highly intelligent, capable, sensitive young people with a lot of try and enormous potential. Jane and Ron have created a family environment that provides the type of parental guidance, family support and unconditional acceptance these kids so desperately need at this time in their lives.

In England, a friend’s horses were greatly responsible for helping Jane cope with a physically and emotionally difficult childhood. Without that lifeline she would have had no little or no hope and nothing to look forward to and fight for. The time she spent with horses gave Jane the self confidence to be self sufficient when she left home at the age of fourteen to escape an intolerable situation. Horses instilled in her the confidence to leave her native home for America. Many told her she couldn’t make it work. She was 28 years old and she did. Jane came to America alone, she knew no one. She started a business which became very successful and lived the American dream settling in the San Diego area. She combined forces with Ron Tomczak who was a business competitor. They teamed up, bought a few acres of their own to rescue and have some horses and were living the life they thought they always wanted. But something really important was missing.

One day Jane signed out a very small eleven year old girl from the Polinsky Center. The Polinsky Center is where children are taken when first removed from their homes or abusive situations. She was very tiny. Withdrawn, painfully shy and unresponsive when spoken to, she was always hunched over looking at the ground. This only made her appear even smaller. She was incapable of making eye contact and was exactly the type of child that an overwhelmed social services system would easily let slip through the cracks. She just wanted to be left alone and that’s mostly what happened.

Her life had been a series of tragedies that no human should ever have to deal with – at any age. The fact that this tiny, precious little creature had survived was a miracle in itself.

She didn’t speak to Jane or Ron for weeks, however the staff at the group home noticed the change in her attitude from the very first visit. The next week when Jane went to pick her up, the staff observed that her spirits were higher than they’d ever seen before and she was ready and eager to go hours before Jane’s arrival. Each week her enthusiasm increased and her situation at the home improved. People wanted to spend time with her and she began to welcome it.

When Jane eventually asked her one day what she liked most about the ranch, the little girl’s response surprised her. Instead of, “I like grooming or riding the horses” she said “What I like best about coming here is there are no big fences. Here, I feel free.”

Such a poignant example of how far off the mark our system is. We try to help as best we know how. We donate to charities, pay our taxes, delegate the responsibility of day to day procedures to nameless, faceless individuals and agencies. That done, we get on with our lives assuming everything’s taken care of and we’ve done our part. These are children most of us never see in our daily lives.

How ironic that little girl was removed from her home for her own protection and rather than feeling safer, she felt as if she’d been imprisoned. An unexpected twist.

Horses are always looking to their riders for leadership, direction and confidence. They are wonderful mirrors for us. They don’t care what we look like and they may not know what we’re thinking, but they always know how we feel. They need to know if they should trust us or run for their lives. Children also operate on feel, it is what makes them such a magical combination. They relate to one another on a level few adults still have the ability to. In spite of their shared past traumatic experiences, in a unique way they are still so pure, as only children and animals can be.

By supporting the Challenge Ranch youth, we can grow both their confidence and their prospects for their future.

Donations are are always welcome, there are a variety of ways to contribute and become involved, even at a minimal level. I encourage you to take a closer look at these wonderful programs that are quietly and effectively transforming lives, they are well worth our time and efforts to support.

Click here to view what it costs to sponsor a child.


To contact or participate in The Challenge Ranch Program:
Jane Tomczak - CEO
Email: jane@challengeranch.org
Challenge Ranch, Inc.
5973 Stallion Oaks Rd.
El Cajon, CA 92109
Ranch 619.445.0598
Fax 619.445.5219


Alexandria Harrel -CEO
Email: alexharrel@gmail.com
ShowcuttersForKids, Inc.
2691 N FM Rd 51, Springtown, TX 76082
Phone: #817-523-5221

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