SMART volunteers share passion for program at tack sale

rdymond@bradenton.comNovember 24, 2012 

EAST MANATEE -- Friday's sixth annual tack sale to provide scholarships for riding lessons for financially needy disabled children and adults raised just over $1,000.

But for Lupe Sosa, the mother of a Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy client who can afford the $25 per hour for riding lessons, the real story of the sale was the dedication of 100 volunteers.

Volunteers at the sale held at Tractor Supply Co. answered questions from horse aficionados who shopped tables filled with mostly used and

some new English and Western leather saddles, girths, boots, blankets, bridles, halters, bits, polo wraps, riding clothing, reins and spurs.

Volunteers answered questions about SMART, which is a 100-percent volunteer organization in East Manatee. At Friday's sale were Executive Director Gail Clifton, coordinator Diane Staab, instructor Erin Papke, all-around handywoman Bren Wilkinson, horse leader Amy Besio and volunteer landscaper Tristan O'Neill.

These people make a difference, Sosa said.

"In my daughter's world, there is not a lot she can do socially," Sosa said of her daughter, Paloma Sosa, 22, whose autism has diminished her communication skills. "SMART adds to her world 150 percent. Out there, she is the main focus. The way the volunteers treat her is precious. The acceptance of children like Paloma is not always there in the world."

Tack buyers looking for good deals found plenty Friday, but if they were lucky, they also got to talk and get to know SMART volunteers Papke and Besio.

The women started the tack sale six years ago.

Papke, who lives in Panther Ridge, loves horses and loves to instruct clients like Paloma.

"The horses act differently when they have a rider from our program on their backs as opposed to able-bodied," said Papke, who earned degrees in studio art and psychology from the University of South Florida in 2010. "The horses seem to know what to do. They provide emotional and cognitive stimulation."

Paloma has ridden at SMART since she was 15. Her mother notices positive changes, socially and physically.

"Paloma rides every Saturday and, on Saturday morning, she gets out of bed no problem," Lupe Sosa said. "She puts on her SMART shirt and can't wait. She would wear that shirt every day.

"When she is on a horse and looking down, I believe it gives her empowerment," Sosa added. "It has increased her physical mobility because when the horse moves, she must move with it."

Each year SMART, which provides weekly lessons for 68 students, must raise roughly $30,000 for students who can't afford to pay the lesson fee, Clifton said.

Volunteers always are needed to muck stalls, walk beside horses, clean water troughs, sweep walkways, do handy work around the stables, lead horses and other chores.

Anyone interested in volunteering or buying unsold tack items from the sale is asked to call 941-322-2000.

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