By Raiza Giorgi


Each spring the Santa Ynez Valley Star highlights students who have made an impact on the community or on their schools and who will be going on to higher education, military service, or trade schools. 

Today, we profile two seniors at Midland School, Eleanor Larkin and Chani Derbyshire.


Eleanor Larkin has been “gentling” a wild mustang for her senior project at Midland School.

Eleanor Larkin

Having the opportunity to be a kid and finding others who love the balance between fun and learning is what Eleanor Larkin loves about being a Midland School student. She found a way to have an outlet for her stress when she joined the school’s horse program, and now she wants a career involving horses.

“I’ve learned how to follow what I’m passionate about and how to make time for it, because our schedules are so filled up here,” she said.

Eleanor started riding when she was 6 years old but it was different in her hometown, where she had to find a way to get to a facility to ride. In her role as “Head of Horses” for the school, Eleanor is responsible for feeding all the horses in the mornings. She created her senior project to “gentle” a wild mustang from the Return to Freedom sanctuary, a nonprofit organization in Lompoc that preserves the freedom, diversity and habitat of America’s wild horses and burros.

Eleanor has been working with her mustang “Jerry” for several hours every day since last summer to get him comfortable with people.

“I didn’t set one goal and (have been) more exploratory to see what happens. I’ve been using research tools from talking with other trainers, reading books and watching videos to use in my training,” she said.

“Sending him out in a certain direction by using my active and neutral energy to communicate with him. It takes a lot of practice and patience,” she said.

In the beginning of her training his comfort zone ended at 10 feet and he would get a wild look. Now Eleanor can touch him all over and pick up his feet. Recently she was able to put a bareback pad on him, which is a huge step.

“I tend to carry a lot of stress in my body, but when you’re working with a sensitive wild animal you have to figure out how to let go. I have to ask myself, ‘Am I in the right place?’ and center myself,” Eleanor said.

Working with her horse has helped her in her other duties at school and has also transferred to her everyday life.

After she graduates she will be attending Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts because of its horse program, she said with a laugh.

Eleanor is interested in biology and is thinking of going into medicine, but she wants something that makes her happy and involves horses.


Chani Derbyshire found a passion for farming and sustainable agricultural while studying at Midland School.

Chani Derbyshire

When Chani Derbyshire first started at Midland School her freshman year, she was reluctant to participate in the outdoor programs, but after a few outings she decided that it was the best part about school.

“I started working in the farming program and I haven’t stopped, and my entire life revolves around being in the garden,” she said.

The Salt Lake City native got her unique name from a science fiction character in the book “Dune.” She followed in the footsteps of her brother, who also attended Midland.

“Being here really gave me my love for the outdoors, and I love doing manual labor and seeing the results of my hard work in the food we produce,” she said.

Chani is “Head of Garden,” which means she gets to feed the pigs and turn the compost every day. She then takes the compost and puts it into the garden. She says she has learned about soil health and about more varieties of produce than what’s offered in the grocery store.

“I love growing celery root because it reminds me of Chewbacca,” she laughed.

She also works in the school kitchen with meal preparation and planning.

“Agriculture is important, and I have found an appreciation for weeds, as most of the weeds in our garden are actually edible and we put them in our meals,” she said.

Chani has worked with the Chamberlin family just down the road from Midland, and has participated in their programs for soil science health and grazing practices.

When she graduates from Midland, Chani will return to Salt Lake City and attend the University of Utah, majoring in sustainable agriculture.

When she isn’t in the garden, Chani loves horseback riding, rock climbing and backpacking.