What: Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy
What They’re All About: Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy, or SMART, helps special needs children and adults throughout Sarasota and Manatee counties through therapeutic riding programs involving riding and working with horses.
The programs improve balance, flexibility, and challenges riders emotionally and mentally in addition to the physical demands.
“Our mission is to provide riding therapy to everyone in our community who needs it,” said Gail Clifton, volunteer executive director.
The organization is made up of all volunteers and has no paid staff.
SMART will celebrate 25 years of service in 2012.
How You Can Help: The Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy has plenty of ways to help and volunteer, thanks to a 23-acre property the organization will soon call home.
SMART purchased the Lazy Moon Ranch property Dec. 8 next door to their current location at 4800 County Road 675 in Bradenton, for $750,000 and is in the midst of renovating it to move into March 1.
“We have a mortgage now, so certainly fundraising and getting community support is more important than ever,” Clifton said. “We are going to be very busy. We would like to have our mortgage paid off in four years.”
The property features three barns, a house, a caretakers cottage, activity area, picnic pavilion, workshop, therapy pool and an arena.
The three barns can hold 18 horses while the house will be the administrative offices and be used for therapists and occupational therapists, she said.
SMART hopes to have the arena covered someday for all-weather events.
“It’s going to be a perfect home for SMART,” Clifton said.
Currently, SMART has leased land for free during the past 16 years from the Hunsadar family, she said.
“As we have grown, what we keep bumping up against is it’s really hard to get donations and really hard to get capital improvements if you don’t have your own property,” she said.
Thanks to Florida-based Second Chance Foundation, the organization was able to gain a mortgage because the foundation offers mortgages for riding therapy programs who are looking for a second home, she said.
The organization services 270 people each year and hopes to increase that by 50 percent in the first year of its new locaiton.
The community can help make the new digs a place of their own through sponsoring a barn or building or arena through donations, she added.
The prices range from $5,000 for the picnic tables at the parent pavilion, therapy garden and fishing pond to $500,000 for the main buildings and $850,000 for the whole property.
An open house is planned for the new property in March or April, too.
Beyond funds for the property, SMART needs help cleaning the property and getting it ready.
“There’s a lots of painting, clean-up work, all kinds of stuff involved with buying new property,” she said.
For the program itself, volunteers are always needed to help with the therapy riding lessons.
These volunteers act as a horse leader or side walkers, she said, to help guide the horses and the riders and assist with balance or provide emotional support while riding.
Helping with barn chores, paperwork, computer filing and other duties are also needed, she said.
“We are all volunteers at SMART; we have no paid staff,” she said. “We know how important volunteering is for sure.”
You can also sponsor or adopt a horse for $1,000 for the year to help take care of the animal, she said.
The program also needs help funding scholarships for the riders. An $800 scholarship pays for one year of 40 lessons.
“About 65 percent of children and adults in our program cannot afford our minimal fee of $25 a lesson,” she said. “Our mission is to never turn away anyone who needs riding therapy.”
An orientation will be organized for new volunteers.