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SMART trots onto new home site

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  • | 5:00 a.m. February 29, 2012
SMART Volunteer Executive Director Gail Clifton and SMART rider Jessica Stort were eager to show off one of the new barns.
SMART Volunteer Executive Director Gail Clifton and SMART rider Jessica Stort were eager to show off one of the new barns.
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MANATEE COUNTY — As Gail Clifton, volunteer executive director for Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy, climbs into a golf cart and busily shows off the program’s newly acquired property, it’s proof that dreams do come true.

Twenty-five years after SMART began, the therapeutic horseback-riding program now has a permanent home. The 23-acre estate, located less than one-half mile from SMART’s former site, includes not only plenty of usable land, office and storage space and other needed amenities but also opportunity to grow.

“Our families are so excited,” Clifton said. “(The property) was so perfect for SMART.”

SMART planned to be completely moved into its new home March 1, and SMART leaders will celebrate with a housewarming party for the facility, as well as for the organization’s 25th anniversary, on March 31.

Festivities will include a ribbon-cutting ceremony, tours of the facility, keynote speakers, live music by the Florida Mountain Boys and a barbecue lunch. There also will be riding demonstrations and activities, such as a clown and bounce houses, for families.

“We are so excited to share our new, beautiful home with our friends, supporters and neighbors,” said Nick Drizos, president of SMART. “It has been a long-held dream for SMART to have its own property and we are ecstatic to have achieved this goal.”

On the new property is a two-story home with a wrap-around front porch that offers the perfect space both for SMART’s administrative needs, as well as kitchen and dining space, plenty of storage and rooms for future therapy sessions with children. A fenced-in pool area, hopefully, one day will offer an opportunity for water therapy sessions for children who need it, as well.

Outside, a fire pit and a covered, outdoor grilling area will provide space for family fun days and barbecues when the organization hosts horse shows on the property. A fenced-in pond area one day, hopefully, will have a fishing dock which siblings of SMART riders or others can use while on campus.

“We’re really trying to make it a family-friendly place,” Clifton said.

Two barns nearby, with a total of 20 stalls, will provide ample housing for the program’s horses, and a warehouse will provide much-needed space for SMART’s horse trailers, tractors, carts and other equipment.
“We’re going to be able to take better care of our stuff,” Clifton said, noting the organization has never had enough covered storage space for such equipment.

Eventually, SMART leaders would like to construct a covered arena, which would allow the program to continue lessons, even on rainy days.

“(It’s) on our dream list,” Clifton said. “Really, it’s the only big thing we don’t have.”

For the last 15 years, SMART has utilized a 30-acre property donated by Hunsader Farms. The property, although spacious, has had its limitations.

Because SMART did not own the land, the organization was not able to install infrastructure, such as permanent bathroom facilities, among other items.

But because Hunsader offered the property rent-free, SMART was able to save up for a down payment on its new permanent facility, Clifton said.

SMART’s new property previously sold in 2004 for more than $1 million, but the organization was able to close on the homestead Dec. 8, for $750,000 through the help of Second Chance Foundation, a Naples-based organization that provides financial assistance and mortgages to therapeutic riding programs, among other philanthropic efforts.

“This really has put us in a different league,” Clifton said of the new facility. “We’ve got to step up, and we’re going to.

“Our goal is to pay off our mortgage within four years,” she said. “We have a lot of fundraising to do.”

Already, the community has chipped in to provide much of the materials and labor needed to renovate the facility at no cost to SMART, Clifton said. But more will be needed, especially as SMART moves toward its long-range goals of turning the property into a therapy center, of sorts.

“We want eventually to have other therapeutic services available here,” Clifton said, noting the idea was inspired by a therapeutic riding center in Pennsylvania called Leg Up Farm. “What we hear most from our families is ‘I run around all week from therapy (session) to therapy (session).”

Bringing a variety of complementary and educational therapy offerings, from aquatic therapy at the property’s pool to speech and occupational therapies and support groups, will ease the burden on SMART families, whose children require multiple forms of intervention. Clifton said it’s a dream that won’t be realized right away, but SMART leaders are intent on developing the program as quickly as possible. During the next year, SMART leaders also hope to double the number of clients served through the program.

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

SMART Anniversary and House-warming Celebration
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 31
WHERE: SMART, 4640 C.R. 675, Bradenton


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