Norman, a 17-year-old Haflinger horse, stood still while Sabrina Bosarge, a Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy volunteer, carefully scrubbed him with soap and water.
Being with the volunteers is some of the only interaction Norman has had with people since March because the nonprofit had to stop programming due to COVID-19.
But now anyone has the opportunity to visit Norman and SMART’s 14 other horses through its adopt-a-horse campaign.
Multiple individuals, families or businesses can sponsor a horse. Donors of any amount will receive a letter stating that they have adopted the horse, and they can come by the nonprofit’s facilities at 4640 County Road 675 in east Bradenton to visit “their” horse.
The adopt-a-horse campaign is just one of SMART’s efforts to help offset the cost of caring for the horses. To raise additional funds, SMART is now offering morning and evening lessons to the general public, which is a first for the nonprofit, as well.
Rebecca Blitz, SMART’s executive director, said the thought to open lessons to the general public was more about allowing family members of children with disabilities to ride along with them.
Blitz said opening to the public also means more riding time and attention for the horses, which they’ve missed since SMART closed due to COVID-19.
“Our horses need the exercise,” she said. “Our horses love the one-on-one. They’re happy, and they love that interaction. For the longest time, we’ve had no one out here.”
Without programming being provided, the nonprofit did not have an income coming in for months, and now SMART is struggling to find income sources and volunteers to be able to feed its horses and to maintain its facilities.
“Things have been rough,” Blitz said. “Our volunteer base is over the age of 65, and they can’t compromise their health, so we have been struggling to get volunteers to come out to help with every day operations, just cleaning stalls and maintaining the property.”
The nonprofit spends on average $850 per horse per month and about $10,000 per horse per year.
Blitz said the campaign is a way to support SMART and the community because the donations will help cover costs and bring awareness about the programs and services it provides while also giving people an opportunity to have a horse of their own.
“This is a great program we can facilitate,” Blitz said. “It’s an opportunity for us to give to the community and for the community to give to us. It’s a great partnership.”
The nonprofit has been applying for grants to assist in covering the impact of COVID-19, but Blitz said the nonprofit is seeing the grants go to small businesses and for-profits rather than organizations like SMART. Staff have also reached out to possible donors and foundations.
Blitz said their scholarship grant funds have been depleted because the nonprofit needed to use the funds to feed the horses.
Therapy riding lessons without a scholarship grant is $120, but SMART is able to drop the cost of lessons for riders to $35 because of the scholarships.
Blitz said the nonprofit is having to prioritize what to spend money on such as whether to fix the air conditioning units or fix the front gate.