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Manatee tack sale to raise funds for riding therapy program

EAST MANATEE — English and western saddles and bridles. Chaps, blankets, saddle pads, girths, halters and more.

It all falls under the heading of tack, equipment needed to safely and comfortably ride a horse.

All that equestrian equipment, including a dozen saddles, and at least one very purple cowboy hat, will be for sale from 8 a.m. Horse to 3 p.m. Saturday when the Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy has its annual tack sale.

Wednesday, program director Bridget Brunson and volunteers Erin Papke and Amy Kate Besio looked through and organized the donated items at the SMART facility on County Road 675.

Proceeds from Saturday’s sale at Tractor Supply Company, 4404 S.R. 64 E., will be used to help fund SMART programs in providing educational and recreational therapeutic horseback riding and carriage driving programs for people with special needs.

The three women share a passion for helping their clients, have a love for horses and aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty.

Papke, 22, a recent University of South Florida graduate, heads up the tack sale, works as a volunteer Saturdays and is part of the barn crew. She has been helping out for eight years.

Besio, a 17-year-old Lakewood Ranch High School student, said in her heart of hearts she would like to become a professional barrel racer, but will probably listen to her more logical side and study aeronautical engineering.

Brunson, a west Bradenton resident, got involved in SMART through her daughter, Charlotte, a Manatee High School student.

Initially, Brunson started out scrubbing watering troughs and working on other maintenance projects.

“The early morning barn crew gets here at 6:15,” Brunson said of the dedication needed to care for 16 horses, ranging in age from 5 to 23, used in the program.

Brunson is at the SMART facility three to four days a week.

Of the long commute, she says, “I organize my thoughts, I review my day and I enjoy the country scenery.”

Also at Tractor Supply on Saturday, Gulf Coast Animal Rescue will offer pet adoptions from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For more information about SMART, visit