While the summer sun rose lazily above the treetops of Three T’s Ranch, dozens of volunteers buzzed about like tireless honeybees in bright golden t-shirts, gathering donated items and preparing food. From the wee hours of the morning until the gates officially opened at 3:00, the Prospect Riding Center crew prepared for the anticipated crowds.
Outside, they erected multi-colored tents, designed a cozy hay bale and quilt lounge, and assembled a spacious dance floor. Inside the main barn, stalls took on a variety of purposes. One became a photographer’s backdrop, draped by a canvas “cowpoke curtain.” Another was transformed into a mini-spa, featuring chair massages by Molly Zaput of Zen Spa. An assortment of homemade sweets provided by Desserts by Kacee was artfully displayed in the aisle that included several serving tables dressed for the occasion in red and white-checkered tablecloths.
Dinner tickets, purchased in advance, entitled guests to enjoy a BBQ feast, including crocks filled with BBQ beans, fresh salads, and an array of summer vegetables. At the far end of the barn, Rich Lyon and Chuck Trefrey slowly roasted 100 lbs of pork, donated by the Myakka City Foundation, on a steel smoker donated by a local Myakka City family, the Elek’s.
As the guests began arriving for Prospect’s largest fundraiser of the year, family, friends, riding students, community sponsors, and horse lovers blended seamlessly. The first 100 entrants were greeted with complimentary Fresh From Florida gift bags donated by the Florida Agriculture Department. Food and raffle tickets, available in advance and at the gate, were quickly sold. Visitors then made their way to Miller’s Snack Shack where they nibbled on a variety of sweet and salty treats, including Bite Me Beef Jerky, Kettle corn, and Coco Joe’s Italian Ice.
The show of community support was certainly evident in the multitude of donated items for the silent auction. An outdoor patio furniture set donated by Windward Design Group, a flower arrangement by Tropical Interiors, and a custom Moen faucet were on display near the front gate, while an array of smaller items fit neatly in the cool shade of the metal barn. Baskets featured fine wines, appetizers, children’s toys, and beachwear. An industrial radio and fishing poles were also available, as were a multitude of gift certificates from such local businesses as The Eye Center, Come See Come Sav, Jason’s Deli, TreeUmph, Zen Spa, Crowder Brothers Ace Hardware, and Fresh Market. A table laden with delicate orchids attracted many visitors, and guests were offered the opportunity to sponsor both horses and riders for a small fee. Donated items were valued at more than $3,000.
As the afternoon crowd settled in, volunteers and young clients of Prospect’s therapeutic riding programs gathered up their mounts and proudly demonstrated their latest accomplishments. Riders carefully maneuvered horses around the ring, guiding them to a halt into designated areas. Some placed batons in buckets and mailboxes along the fence line, while others coaxed their mounts around colorful cones.
Individual success stories began to circulate as proud parents waved from the sidelines. All agreed that improved stamina, better balance, leg strength, and confidence were among the most noticeable benefits experienced by their children. From Shannon and Travis Neidert, who just joined Prospect in May, to Michael Horn who has been involved for almost 3 years, each family recognized positive changes in their children almost immediately, and all agreed that Susan Tambone and her crew of tireless volunteers was to thank.
The demonstration wrapped up and the horses were led back to the barn just as the upbeat bluegrass melodies of Faceless Bandit filled the air. Families gently rocked in wicker chairs and swings under the trees, babies slept in strollers, and couples gathered in the hay bale lounge. Tim Schlach from the White Buffalo Saloon stepped on stage and led an energetic group of boot-clad guests, both young and old, in line dancing lessons. The dancers stomped and kicked in unison, working up an appetite and entertaining the crowd.
In the end, today’s goal was to raise $5,000. That was nothing compared to the many things that Tambone and Prospect Riding Center raises daily in every one of her clients: hopes, courage, confidence, strength. You just can’t put a price on that.