Guests pony-up for Special Equestrians

VERO BEACH – Entering in through a long, winding driveway, arriving guests could see a number of horses grazing in the spacious fields that stretched beyond an attractive home.  The horses had been temporarily dispossessed; their barn mucked and buffed to nearly new status for Pony Up!, a benefit for special Equestrians of the Treasure Coast, held Saturday night. 

Sandy and George Kahle opened up their lovely polo ranch for the event, the first major fundraiser ever held by the organization. It was a perfect evening for the open-air event, with a gorgeous Florida sunset and temperatures moderate enough that the heating towers were barely necessary.  Guests mingled over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres and took a few peeks, albeit from a distance, at the sweet new foal that had been born just five days before.  Apparently mother and foal had taken care of business unattended.  “I came out to check and thought I saw more than four legs; she was only about an hour old,” said Sandy Kahle.  The couple has lived on the property for close to 40 years and the Kahle name is virtually synonymous with polo in Vero Beach.

While we watched a few young students, sitting proudly atop SETC horses and demonstrating their equestrian skills, I spoke with presenting sponsors Bill and Gail Kagler. The couple became  involved because of a grandson with severe Cerebral Palsy who had participated in therapeutic riding in Cincinnati.  When the Kaglers moved to Vero Beach they became active with SETC and Bill joined the board two years ago.  “There is something about the gait of the horse that replicates what it feels like to walk.  Poor balance is improved and their muscles relax.  Autistic children also seem to benefit and they have even worked with adult stroke victims. We need to figure out how to raise an awareness of the organization; I’d like to see the horse community get more involved.”

Michelle Penly, whose mother Vickie is an SETC board member, was all smiles when John Johnson mentioned that she brings her miniature horse and cart to Indian River Estates, where his mother-in-law lives, and demonstrates her skills. “I sit in the cart and we take off,” she said with a laugh.  “I have my own big horse too that I ride every day and I compete at the [Indian River] Riding Club.”

I also ran into James and Dawn Redman, who are the Honorary Rally Masters of the Vero Road Rally Magnifique (aka VRRM) to benefit Sun-Up of Indian River next month.  “We actually met because of Special Equestrians.  My sister, Charlotte Rogers, was on the board [of SETC].  I came along to help at a polo fundraising event and Dawn was announcing. But, because of a series of circumstances, it took three years for the first date to actually take place.”

Dr. Lyndall Soule, a Vero Beach native, started her relationship with SETC as the organization’s vet and is now board president.  She eventually sold her veterinary practice but still works with the SETC horses on a volunteer basis.  “It takes a unique horse for this type of work; not all can adapt to it.”  Among other things, the horses have to be patient and gentle, tolerant of uneven weight and mixed signals, and must first go through a probation period with trained instructors.

Vickie Penly works as the volunteer program director and was credited by several people I spoke with as being indispensable to the organization.  With the exception of a few paid instructors, all of the work at SETC, from assisting students to mucking out the stalls, is done by volunteers.

Following the horse and rider demonstration by students in the program, guests filtered into the spotlessly clean barn for a buffet dinner catered by Elizabeth Kennedy and accompanied by music from guitarist Terry Dobson.  Among other items, a live auction featured a custom made riding saddle donated by Blue Ribbon auction sponsor Joan Cain, who raises and trains horses here and in Texas.

The auction also included a Horse and Rider Paddle Raiser, seeking donations from the $500 White Ribbon level up to the $2,500 Blue Ribbon level to help sponsor special-needs riders and SETC horses.  Many students have had to drop out of the program because of the current economy, so money raised at the event will go towards scholarships.

“Everything related to special-needs children is expensive and when money is tight it’s hard to also pay for riding,” explained volunteer Dar Dennis.  The organization is currently leasing the place they have on 53rd Street and is looking for a permanent home. Added Dennis, “If you know of anyone who wants to donate some land, let us know.” {igallery 152}

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