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Magic: SMART’s badge of honor

Annual derby celebration raises money for riding therapy program.

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  • | 6:15 p.m. April 20, 2017
  • East County
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Don’t let Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy’s horse Magic fool you.

The 21-year-old, 1,100-pound quarter horse might be blind, but he certainly is not dumb, said SMART’s Executive Director Brandi Ezell.

“Magic is one smart horse,” Ezell said. “I mean, our literacy program here is based off of Magic’s book, ‘Magic: One Smart Horse.’”

Though SMART participants do not ride Magic, he plays a critical role in SMART’s Horse Sense Literacy program, a fourth-grade level program designed to show students that reading is fun and to teach values, such as humility.

The program is simple. Fourth-graders in the area receive a copy of Magic’s book two weeks before to their scheduled field trip to SMART. The book explains the first day Magic arrived at SMART and introduces students to each horse at the SMART ranch. Horses are used for riding lessons for  special needs individuals and for military veterans.

“It’s not often that kids get to read a book and then meet every character in it, including the narrator, which is Magic,” Ezell said. “It’s a book, written by his previous owner, Jody Lynn McBrien, that teaches students empathy and compassion while also promoting literacy.”

Magic partners with KC, SMART’s oldest horse at 31 years old, to help the fourth-graders learn what life is like for the pair.

Two of Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy’s horses, Magic and KC, go for a stroll around the ranch.
Two of Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy’s horses, Magic and KC, go for a stroll around the ranch.

“The students will first pair up. One person will be the horse and one will be the horse’s leader,” Ezell said. “The student that’s the horse will wear visually impaired goggles while their partner leads them through the obstacle course, giving the students the opportunity to understand what it would feel like to be Magic, or lead him (like KC does).”

Magic lost his eyes before his sixth birthday because of an infection. 

“Magic is a testament to the SMART program,” Ezell said. “He has a disability, yet he is such a beautiful creature with a job, he’s well loved and it gives participants the opportunity to see that though you may have a challenge, it does not mean you’re limited.”

SMART’s Volunteer Coordinator Melissa Spillenkothen has worked with Magic over the years, and she says he is an “amazing horse.”

“He is very confident of himself, even though he has no eyes, and he is a wonderful therapy horse because we can introduce him to people who are warriors in transition,” Spillenkothen said. “Kids get to meet Magic and see this confidence he displays, often giving them the strength to think that maybe they, too, can overcome, or at least cope with, whatever challenges they have.”

Magic, KC and all of SMART’s therapy horses will welcome the public during the fourth annual Mint Juleps and Roses Derby Day on May 6, SMART’s largest fundraiser of the year.

Tickets cost $75 and include a catered buffet dinner under the tent and a sample of a mint julep. Tours of the ranch will be available.

Last year, SMART collected $76,000 from the derby event and it hopes to do better this year.

All donations will go to SMART operations and scholarships SMART awards to riders.

“It really is a family of people that work here,” Spillenkothen said. “We are all very active and we know each other. We care for each other. We worry about each other. We’re a family. Each of us gets something out of SMART. It’s very rewarding work.”


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