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About Us

Stepping Stones Riding Program was created with the intention of having a ranch that welcomed horses needing a home and people needing horses.  To fulfill its mission, public lessons are offered.  These lessons provide the funds necessary to offer a full riding and horse care program to those unable to pay for experiences with horses.  Spending time with horses and their environment offers our students the opportunity to gain a sense of accomplishment, self confidence and responsibility that may be absent from their daily lives.   Stepping Stones is currently offering its program at no charge to clients of Many Mansions, a local nonprofit organization that provides low income housing as well as to residents of the HOMES organization and YMCA members receiving financial scholarships with them.  It is our belief that people can help horses and that horses can help people.  Stepping Stones has been in the minds and hearts of its co-founders since before its actual beginning in January 2012.  It found its current home at the Conejo Valley YMCA in Thousand Oaks, California in May, 2012.  Utilizing YMCA property at the top of the hill overlooking the YMCA (and previously used for horse summer camps), we built an arena, put up a barn, built a pasture and a tack room in just a few short months.  The YMCA has graciously allowed us to run our program year-round and we in turn offer horseback riding to their campers in the summer.  We are a small, intimate program offering low cost lessons, thorough instructions, friendly staff and volunteers - all without the beaurocracy associated with large organizations.  Our students progress in their skills up to and including ability to participate in judged horsemanship events should they wish to.  It's a win for both sides!

Meaghan Shaffer - Co-Founder, Horse Trainer, and presently, Head Riding Instructor

Meaghan has made horses her career.  She began cleaning stalls in middle school in exchange for lessons, then worked for a trainer in exchange for the opportunity to compete in horse shows, which evolved into a position as an assistant trainer, and then she began training on her own.  Meaghan is the current Senior Instructor of Stepping Stones.  Most recently, Meaghan has become interested in the therapeutic value of horses.  She became certified through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) as a riding instructor for those with disabilities, as well as earning certification as an equine professional through EAGALA - the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association.  Meaghan is married to Benji Zavala and has two children, Natalie and Jaxson and two dogs - Olive and Bailey. They all enjoy the outdoors and horses as a family.


Nancy McChesney - Co-Founder

Nancy has loved horses since she was a little girl.  She bravely took up horseback riding as an adult.  Nancy is a dedicated volunteer who generously serves on the board for Stepping Stones.  In addition to assisting the instructors in classes, she spends countless hours researching and applying for grants, is chair of fundraising and has managed to help keep the program organized.  She is also a wonderful addition to the ranch staff, helping youngsters in lessons, grooming and exercising the horses, and leading the volunteer work days.  When Nancy isn't busy with the program paperwork, you'll probably find her with a good book or in the garden.  Nancy is married to Mike McChesney and has two lovely adult daughters.

Sarah Day - President

Sarah was introduced to Stepping Stones almost 3 years ago when she brought her daughter Kate for a riding lesson.  Kate fell in love with Stepping Stones.  Sarah went on a horseback ride as a child at camp, and has been on a trail ride in Sedona; but she never had the kind of exposure to the day-to-day care of horses until coming to Stepping Stones.  She worked for years in the corporate world, and is now fortunate enough to be home to raise her two children.  This has also afforded her time to volunteer at Stepping Stones, Cub Scouts and baseball.  Sarah is currently the President of Stepping Stones Riding Program.  Most weekday mornings you may find Sarah and her loyal dog 'Bear' with Meaghan cleaning up the pasture and just doing what needs to be done.   Sarah is married to James Day and they have two children, Kate and James.


Marti Smith - Treasurer

Marti loves horses, so when she heard about Stepping Stones, she started taking riding lessons and stayed to volunteer. She is an accountant for a local publishing company and is also studying equine science at Pierce College. In addition to fulfilling her duties as Treasurer, Marti comes to the ranch very often to help clean up the pasture and feed the horses, goats and cats.

Les Leach - Secretary

Les Leach is a cantankerous cuss but we keep him around just cuz he's so darned good lookin'. He's also a mighty fine hard workin' galoot with many, many, many years of experience in construction.  Les is not only handy with a hammer and saw, but he is also quite the expert at mucking the pasture and horse stalls alongside his beloved, Lois.  One o' these days, we're gonna get him up on a horse and test his mettle with a jousting match or just a plain ole walk/trot lesson.  Until then, we'll keep him around cuz he's got one heck of a salty sense of humor.


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