‘Blue Jeans & BBQ’: Kicking in to help Special Equestrians


Some very special equestrians showed off their horsemanship skills for a supportive crowd at the annual Blue Jeans & BBQ fundraiser to benefit Special Equestrians of the Treasure Coast, held at its barn and arena.

Arriving guests mingled, visited with the sweet horse therapists, bid on auction items and purchased items from a giving tree, before enjoying a catered BBQ dinner from 14 Bones.

Karen Johnson, SETC executive director, introduced everyone to the eight gentle horses who are charged with carrying their precious riders. Some horses had been donated, some purchased with grants, but each displayed the calm, sound demeanor needed to work with special needs children and adults.

“For a person with physical, developmental or emotional disabilities, being around horses is very therapeutic,” said Johnson.

“And it can be transformative for those who can actually ride one. They come out here once a week and ride for 30 to 40 minutes, and not only is it something fun to do but it helps them with balance, confidence and independence,” she noted.

Johnson stressed that as safety is their No. 1 priority, all of their volunteer instructors are certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International.

As the riders and instructors mounted their stalwart steeds and paraded in the arena in front of an adoring crowd, pure joy was written on their faces.

Among them was 18-year-old Natalie, who sat tall in the saddle, with her dad and her instructor walking beside her.

“Natalie has been coming here for 14 years,” said her mother, Susie Lacorte.

“She’s 18 now and still looks forward to coming every week. This program has done amazing things for her posture. When she started, she had no trunk support, and she was slumped over. The instructors had to carry her to the horse, and they had a special pillow that they used to prop her up,” Lacorte recalled.

“Eventually she gained more trunk control, and she was able to support herself. She acquired better balance and posture and, while she doesn’t use her right hand, she has actually learned how to hold the reins. She has progressed physically and also emotionally by learning to interact with other students,” Lacorte added.

Since 1992, Special Equestrians of the Treasure Coast has provided equine therapy to individuals who are challenged by mental, developmental, physical and emotional disabilities. The organization has grown from one horse and a couple of volunteers to a stable of eight horses and some 50 dedicated volunteers.

Recently an anonymous donor gifted 24 acres of land in Fellsmere to the nonprofit organization, which will enable them to expand and establish a permanent home.

“We plan to build a barn and a covered arena where we can give lessons in the shade when it gets hot and add more programs to serve the special needs community,” said Johnson.

“We’ve got very generous donors, but we’ll still need to raise more money to make our dream a reality. We’ve got ways to donate on our website and we are actively looking for board members with connections to help with building, marketing and fundraising.”

For more information, visit SpecialEquestriansTreasureCoast.org.

Photos by Joshua Kodis

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