Equestrian facility forced to leave Orlando location by 2016
Freedom Ride has 5 years to find a new home
Published: Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, October 5, 2011 17:10
Through a potential partnership with the UCF College of Medicine, an equestrian riding center might be able to find a new home.
Equestrian riding center Freedom Ride was awarded a lease on 10 acres from the City of Orlando in 2001. But Orlando has plans to extend Trotters Park and build more fields for various sports with that land. Freedom Ride has to move out by August 2016.
Freedom Ride provides therapeutic riding lessons to adults and children with Spina bifida, developmental disabilities, autism, Down syndrome, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, brain injury, speech-language disorders and more. Annually, Freedom Ride helps more than 150 individuals.
Executive Director Marianne Gray said she knows they have to find a new place, but she doesn't blame the city. Gray is hoping to find backers to help them financially so they can find new land.
"We've been very fortunate being here at the Central Florida location next to Trotter's Park," Gray said. "Ideally, in a perfect world, we would like to find at least 20 acres and again in a perfect world enough stables to increase our horse numbers."
Gray hopes that through a partnership with the UCF College of Medicine, which is looking to incorporate an equestrian center for therapeutic use, Freedom Ride will continue to stay open so that customers like Athena Pock will be able to continue to take their loved ones for riding lessons.
Pock's 23-year-old son, Alexander, was born with Down syndrome. She said that horseback riding gives him the physical strength, confidence and socialization that he needs. It has given Alexander a chance to have his own sport to cherish just like his brother Adam has baseball.
"It was important to Alexander that he had his own sport, something special and unique that he did, so he didn't have to share with his brother," Pock said.
Pock also said if Freedom Ride moved further away, she would still take Alex every Saturday.
"He would miss it and ask about it," Pock said. "I would just work it into my schedule and work around it. You get up, pack a picnic and take the drive."
Unlike the Pock's situation, barn manager Lisa Kessler already takes a lengthy drive from Clermont to work at Freedom Ride. If Freedom Ride moves further east, Kessler might not be able to make the drive.
"I feel like it would be good for us to have our own facility, but personally I would love to stay," Kessler said.
Freedom Ride was curious how the move would affect its current families who come and ride so they sent out a survey. Most of the families said they would drive another 20 miles, but they have time constraints because of work.
Gray said she believes they will lose some riders, but depending on where its new location is Freedom Ride could gain some riders as well.
Hurricane-proof stables, fenced-in fields for grazing and other parts that Freedom Ride already established will be a difficult task for staff to replace without the right financial backing. Otherwise, they will have to start from scratch.
"On the positive side, maybe we can find more land and have 20 acres instead of the 10 that we have here," Gray said.
An architect has already drawn-up renderings for a new facility. Now Gray and other staff members hope to find a place they can call theirs permanently.