The Kids & Horses Team

Farmer Wilson

Executive Director

Farmer has been volunteering his time for the past two years, assisting with student lessons, and sitting on the Board of DirectorsHis passion and dedication to the work that happens at Kids & Horses, along with his extensive experience as a working farmer and business owner, make him highly qualified for the position.   

“I am excited and honored to join Kids and Horses as the new Executive Director. With its rich history in this community and the impact made by an incredible board of directors, staff, volunteers, and team of therapists, this organization will continue to see success through the dedicated work of so many enthusiastic individuals. 

It’s been an honor and a privilege to witness the progress, smiles, and laughter of our participantsI look forward to continuing to work with our amazing staff and volunteers to grow the programs and services we provide to best fit the needs of our communityI invite anyone to reach out to me at [email protected], and to visit our beautiful facility and to see first-hand what makes Kids & Horses so special.” 

– Farmer Wilson 

Cat O’Brien

Program Director, PATH-certified Instructor

Catherine “Cat” O’Brien is originally from Chicago but spent much of her life in Southern California. Cat had been in public education for 20 years, teaching ESL and Spanish at Carson Middle School, before coming on board the Kids & Horses team. Since then, Cat has worked faithfully to nurture and grow our program. Fun Fact: During ski season, it isn’t unusual to see Cat escaping to the mountains.

Dorothy Magnotta

Office Manager, Volunteer Coordinator 

Dorothy moved from New Jersey in January of 2017.  She became involved with Kids & Horses the same month she moved to Minden and has grown to love seeing the appreciation the students, staff, and volunteers have for the program. She has been happily married for over thirty years and has two young adult children. In her spare time, she loves exploring new surroundings and socializing with people. Fun Fact: It’s no surprise that one of Dorothy’s favorite hobbies includes cooking and entertaining. 

Alissa Burns

Equine Manager, PATH-certified Instructor 

After retiring from a career of over thirty years in public safety, Alissa was able to quickly fulfill her goal of becoming a PATH Certified Instructor in 2011. Though she became an instructor in 2011, Alissa has been involved in the arena of therapeutic/adaptive riding since the 1980’s. One of her greatest blessings in life has been the ability to share and teach the joy of horses and safe horsemanship with others, no matter what their level of involvement or ability might be. Fun Fact: Alissa’s career included active involvement in Mounted Patrol units. 

Vince Pirozzi

Facility/Safety Manager, PATH-certified Instructor

Vince was born and raised in New York City. He has 38 years of firefighter/paramedic experience, and was commander of Carson City mounted police for 10 years! Vince became an instructor in 2013. His favorite part of teaching is helping his students reach their goals. Fun Fact: Vince enjoys building detailed model boats!

Debbie Ballew

Office Assistant

Debbie grew up in Reno, NV. After retiring from her career as an optician, she began searching for programs that offered equine therapy and discovered Kids & Horses. In March 2019, Debbie joined the program as a volunteer where she quickly fell in love with the ranch. Watching students progress and meet their goals as well as giving her the opportunity to spend time with and work with horses has been her favorite parts about coming on board. Fun Fact: Debbie was nominated as volunteer of the year in 2020. 

Ken Ballew

Maintenance Manager

Ken is a native of Nevada being born and raised in Elko. In 2018, he retired from the State of Nevada where he worked as a communications supervisor. Additionally,  Ken has over forty years experience in the electronics and electrical fields under his belt. After two years of retirement, he started volunteering at the Kids & Horses ranch doing various maintenance. Shortly thereafter, we brought him on board to oversee the maintenance and property projects at the ranch.

Amanda Lotter

Special Projects Coordinator

Amanda has been working with children and adults with disabilities since 2010.  She has a BA in Psychology from Johnson State College in Vermont. She began her love of this field working in residential homes for at-risk foster youth, and as a one on one mentor with at-risk foster teens.  Since moving to the west coast, she has been working with adults one on one to provide independent living skill instruction and assistance in the community.  Amanda first came to Kids & Horses as a volunteer side walker with one of her clients in 2015.  After a two year period as an Executive Director for a nonprofit in South Lake Tahoe, she moved to the Carson Valley and has been working for Kids & Horses as a Special Projects Coordinator with a myriad of responsibilities including: marketing, design, community outreach, to event coordination and fundraising.   

Erin Vaillancourt

Physical Therapist

Since she was seven years old, Erin has been priveleged to call Gardnerville home.  In her spare time, Erin loves doings anything outdoors with her husband and two kids.  Some of their favorite hobbies (besides horses of course) are rock climbing, skiing, and kayaking.  The thing Erin loves about working at Kids and Horses is being a part of a team that is passionate about helping others through the use of a horse. Erin insists that it doesn’t feel like work, and she loves the entire team here. Fun Fact: Though she loves to travel, Erin has yet to find a place as dear to her heart as Gardnerville, NV.

Ani Thompkins

 Ranch Hand 

Ani spent the majority of her life in the Bay area before moving to Gardnerville in the beginning of 2019. After volunteering for a couple of months, Ani was hired as a ranch hand. One of her favorite things about being a part of the Kids & Horses community is watching how the Kids & Horses team works together to create a great expereince for the clients. Fun Fact: Ani is an artist! She has done a lot of painting over the years and makes some beautiful pieces.

Will Koons

 Ranch Hand 

Will started at Kids & Horses as a volunteer.  When he learned that we were in need of a competent horse person to join the ranch hand team, he quickly jumped in.  He has quickly learned the ropes and has become very comfortable with the herd, not only caring for them, but also helping during lessons when needed.  We are so thankful to have him on the team!