Heart, Hooves, Health & Happiness

No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle. ~Winston Churchill

Karen Coney Coplin

By Karen Coney Coplin

The Naples Equestrian Challenge has its 20th Anniversary this year, and with this accomplishment, it celebrates so much more. At the root of many achievements is the indelible bond between human and horse; over 500 local residents experienced this connection, firsthand, as clients of the NEC.

If you’ve driven past the Pine Ridge community, abutting Goodlette-Frank Road, you may have been curious about the barns which are visible to drivers passing by. The big red barn located just south of Center Street at 206 Ridge Dr. is perhaps the most public symbol of the NEC and their mission to improve the lives of their clients, both kids and adults. The NEC serves those with special needs – who become riders as part of their participation – with equine-assisted activities and therapeutic horsemanship.

As our veterans are honored, specially, this month on November 11, it’s timely to note that the NEC counts many military veterans as clients, too. These servicemen and woman participate in programs which aid amputees, those with PTSD, as well as those having survived traumatic brain injuries. Horse ridership presents unique healing opportunities for speech and language development plus improvements to core strength and pulmonary support.

NEC HorseThe NEC’s newsletter recently reported: “…[E]quine activities and the equine environment promote physical, occupational and emotional growth…the horse’s gait mimics the movement of a human pelvis while walking, riders receive physical, sensory and neurological stimulation.”

The NEC has come a long way since 1995, when four volunteers served four riders with two borrowed horses – on a borrowed field, no less! Fast forward: today, over 500 individuals from toddler to elderly; current clients range from age 2 to 91 years young participate in the NEC’s therapeutic programs. Four volunteers have expanded 100-fold, as, today, over 400 supportive, caring individuals generously give of their time to this organization.

A Barn Raising Capital Campaign is now underway to help even more riders benefit from equine-assisted therapy. This campaign has a $5 million dollar goal; of this, $4M is to be allocated for new buildings and site expansion; and $1M for an endowment to deflect maintenance costs of the new equine therapy complex. Part of this complex will include a new, 62’ covered arena with observation deck, essential in the unrelenting Naples sunshine, or on rainy summer days. The organization’s site, www.naplesequestrianchallenge.org has further detail about the expansion.

You can also reach the organization at: 239.596.2988.

One of the therapy horses, Pickett, or Pick-a-Spot, is featured as part of this campaign on a Pine Ridge Road billboard showing the progress made on the $5M goal. The campaign is an essential part of the NEC’s plans to expand their programming including evening hours and take on additional special needs clients. Learn more about this horse and his companion therapy horses online in a fun section called “Meet our horses.” Picket is a Leopard Appaloosa, with 512 spots, and a favorite of all, especially the NEC’s smallest clients. Other horse companions, retired from their years of service to the NEC, are remembered here, too.

A signature fund-raising event, the Boot Strap Boogie Barn Dance, will take place on Saturday, November 14, at the Naples Equestrian Challenge Arena at 206 Ridge Dr., from 7 – 11 p.m. Tickets start at $275. Sponsorship packages are available and an early reception will honor the contributions of the NEC’s generous sponsors. Come join the 10th annual barn dance in what many call the “best party in Naples” as this noble organization, with its noble steeds, triumphantly marks its 20th anniversary as a vital part of life in Naples.

Email Karen: NaplesKCC@gmail.com with future suggestions for coverage in the Heart to Heart column. A special thanks, here, to NEC Board member/Vice President, Connie Sharpe, and her husband Gary (last years’ Barn Dance co-chairs) for their commitment to this organization and the capital campaign, as well as calling my attention to the many exciting plans NEC has in store in its third decade of service. Horses have always had a special place in Connie’s heart, and mine too; perhaps you can join in and show your support by making a donation to the Capital Campaign; attend the Barn Dance; sponsor a rider, or find the perfect volunteer opportunity!

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