To ride a horse is to borrow freedom

The sights and sounds of beautiful horses galloping across a green polo field stir something deep within all of us. The breathlessness of it all makes our hearts pound just a little bit harder, a little bit louder....and this leaves us feeling more alive, more connected, and somehow, more free.

That same sense of freedom is experienced each week at a small farm just down the road. At SMART, the speed of the horse’s movement is not as fast, the pounding of the hooves not as loud-but there is still that sense of excitement, awe, beauty and freedom.

It begins when a teenage girl, challenged with Cerebral Palsy, is gently removed from her wheelchair and placed on her favorite horse. She is expertly stretched and positioned in the saddle while her horse patiently waits. At last, the teenager says the magic words, “Walk on”-and off they go! Her trusty steed, though not galloping, carries her off into the green fields, becoming her legs and her passport to freedom.

The excitement continues when another young girl, one who deals with Autism, comes through the gate, goes straight to her pony, and makes direct eye contact while she gently rubs her pony’s face. She may not connect with those humans around her, but it is apparent that she has found a friend in this pony. She has found someone who will, for the next hour, give her the freedom to have some peace.

And there is the defiant young boy with Down Syndrome, determined to alienate everyone he possibly can! It’s apparent, though, that his pony has definitely captured his heart-and he quickly learns that compliance with his instructor’s requests earns him the right to ride and spend time with this pony. Freedom from defiance is a powerful thing, and laughter and giggles echo through the green fields.

At Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy (SMART), the movement of the horse and the connection to the horse are used to promote healing and growth for children and adults with special needs.

For all of our riders at SMART.....that means freedom!

SMART is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization. All of us at SMART are especially appreciative of and give thanks to Robin Uihlein and the Sarasota Polo Club for supporting us as their charity of choice at their annual Polo Ball. We also appreciate the opportunity to “spread the SMART word” in their magazine and during demonstrations at the Polo Club.

This year, and for the past three years, The Sarasota Polo Club has chosen SMART to be the benefactor of their annual Polo Ball fundraiser. Raising money for such an exceptional cause while promoting the love of horses touches a special place in all of us. This year’s Polo Ball will be held Friday, March 27, 2009 at the Polo Grill & Bar Fte Ballroom in Lakewood Ranch.