Meet The Team

Team Motto
Dedicated to making a difference, Sommersby Ranch goes beyond a traditional approach of teaching to inspire and encourage young girls to reach for the best in themselves.

The Sommersby Ranch Team

Cesaltina da Cunha
An internationally published author, Cesaltina is the founder of Sommersby Ranch. Passionate about horses, she uses them as healers and teachers. She lives her life by cowgirl ethics. It is these simple and timeless values and principles she hopes to instil in young girls as they embrace adult life. Her passion is to empower young girls to be authentic and to become influential women who step out in faith.

Brooke Cunha-Johnson
A cowgirl like her mom, Cesaltina, Brooke has entrusted her life to what she believes. She has an unwavering faith and trusts God with her whole life. She continues to serve the Lord with the conviction that His will is best for her. Her passion is to bring other girls closer to God and His ways, and to share with them the “Fruits of the Spirit.”

“We don’t break horses, we heal them.”

Jesse James, Boereperd Cross Gelding, 7 years old

When we bought JJ in September 2008, he looked very unlike the horse you see today who graces our website cover page.
He was neglected, covered with ticks, and suffering from malnutrition. His coat was dull and matted. His eyes were sunken to the back of his head and his eyes were lifeless. I bought him believing that underneath the way he looked, there was life, and he wanted to live it. Once at the stable yard he quickly showed signs of aggressive behaviour towards other horses, especially at meal times, and he asserted himself as leader of the five horse herd we had bought.
Through regular basic training JJ made huge progress, and from the start he showed a willingness to learn and a desire to please. He was also a quick learner which made training him a pleasure.
In a very subtle way JJ started becoming attached to Brooke, our daughter, and it wasn’t long after their connection was made that I clearly detected they were meant for each other. They both have attitude and spirit without being arrogant and a presence that is hard to ignore.
Since Brooke got him for Christmas of 2008, the two are inseparable and he is truly a photographic star. He features on my book covers and throughout the children’s book,
“A Cowgirl & Her Horse.”

Shadow Dancer, Boereperd Cross Mare, 7 years old

We bought Shadow on the same day as JJ. I picked her out from over a hundred mares who were standing in the holding paddock.
When I first saw her, she was all alone, away from the rest of the herd. She stood without moving, her head held low. Instinctively my heart went out to her. I approached her slowly and she lifted her head slightly as if to acknowledge me. As I came closer and looked into her eyes I saw such indescribable sadness that I had to catch my breath. When I asked about her background, the dealer didn’t know much. She had been ridden over 55 km with no saddle or saddle blanket and with coiled wire in her mouth as a bit. There were deep cuts on the front of her cannon bones where she’s been hobbled with wire and when I took a closer look, her teats were still swollen which told me she had recently foaled. She was grieving and very depressed. This horse tugged at my heart with a force I could not explain. The dealer knew me well and the type of horse I usually bought from him and when I asked about trying her, he said she wasn’t my type of horse. Still I persisted and tacked her up. We took off together into the hills and when I came back I knew I wanted to take her home. She had come to me and I was very much in need of her in my life as it was my first involvement with horses after being away from them for over nine years. That day I named her and made her a promise. I would never hurt her or take her baby away should she ever fall pregnant again. It took me almost a year to earn her trust. Shadow desperately wanted to be a mom as she continued to grieve the baby who was obviously taken away from her before she had the chance to nurse and mother it. I had her covered by a neighboring stallion in November 2009.

Texas Rose, Shadow Dancer’s Foal, born 2 November 2010

I kept my promise to Shadow and she kept her promise to me – a beautiful filly I have named, Texas Rose.
From the day she was born, Texas Rose has shown strength and resilience and a little attitude which says, “Look at me. I have arrived.”
She has been weaned from mom slowly mainly because I wanted to reassure Shadow that I would not take her baby away as promised, and also because I strongly believe that foals need the discipline of the herd to help them grow up as well behaved horses.
Although it will be sometime before she’s ready to be ridden, I will soon start to introduce her to groundwork which will set a good foundation for the work which will follow in her life.


Phoenix is a chestnut three year old mare who arrived at Sommersby Ranch on 24 October 2011. She had been very badly abused and ridden to the point of complete exhaustion. She collapsed and had to be hoisted up with ropes so she could stand.
Suffering from malnutrition and covered with sores, Phoenix showed no will to live. Her coat was falling off in chunks and she was riddled with ticks and worm-infested.
At first we could only use a soft body brush on her frail body as she was so sensitive. The day she arrived we took photos to show the state she was in. One particular shot was of her head where she looked at me with the most soulful eyes I have ever seen. It was as if she could see right through me and as she stared back at me, I saw her pain and the sorrow she bore.
Every time I would approach to halter her she would run away. When I eventually caught her, she would brace herself, waiting for the punishment she was obviously used to. It has taken me almost a year to gain this horse’s trust. Today, she is a pleasure to ride, gentle and obedient, yielding to gentle commands and always a joy to work with. She has very smooth and even gaits and learns very fast for a young horse.


Arizona is a four year old Basuto-cross mare. She arrived together with Phoenix. And she too has come from a severely abused background. When my friend found her she was tied to a peg with a foal at foot in a space no bigger than a metre square. She was covered with cuts, infested with ticks and starving. But the worst were the branding marks on her left hindquarter where someone had carved out the markings. There was a weeping, bloodied wound, the flesh still raw and infected. I could not believe that someone could have done this. For days we treated her and took care of the wounds but I knew that it would take a lot longer to heal the wounds within. She still has some dislike for adults but feels comfortable and safe around children. Although she’s easy to ride, she does have a stubborn streak and resists working. Our work with her is on-going and with time and patience, I know she will come around. Her friend is Phoenix and the two are inseparable.