TALES FROM THE TRAILS
For approximately three hours, part of Loxahatchee Groves turned back the clock to the days of “Merrie Olde England.” Knights in shining armor and fine ladies sat astride their noble steeds, jousting for justice and righting wrongs, as they acted out a fairy tale and completed an appropriately decorated trail course. The Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center held its annual holiday horse show on Saturday, Dec. 9. The theme was a Renaissance festival, and the only slightly contrary variable was the weather.
That Saturday, the first potent cold front of the season swept through South Florida, just as the show was scheduled to start. A line of strong thunderstorms briefly delayed the show, but as it lessened to a light rain, everyone convened in the large covered arena, and the show commenced.
“This is such an enjoyable day,” Executive Director Ruth Menor said. “It’s not so much a competition as a way to just have fun. This year we had a lot of help from the G-Star School of the Arts. They’ve been wonderful. They did all the work of decorating the course for us.”
G-Star became involved through a student who’s the sister of one of the riders. Fifteen students and a few coordinators braved the swiftly dropping temperatures as they manned the course dressed in medieval costumes. Cheyenne Thompson, a G-Star alum, ran the photo stage with a life-sized dragon backdrop.
“We helped design and decorate the course, staff the games and act out the story as the riders come through,” she said. “I love being part of this. It’s a very different experience. We normally do things like haunted houses. I love seeing the kids and horses having such a great time.”
Greg Hauptner, the other G-Star coordinator, agreed. “This is incredible, a fantastic, phenomenal program, so inspirational,” he said. “The smiles do it for me. It’s amazing to be part of it. I’m really happy to be here.”
Vinceremos Volunteer Coordinator Susan Guinan manned the microphone, reading the fairy tale as each rider completed such tasks as solving the riddle, riding over the bridge, weaving through the trees and saving the princess, while receiving such talismans as a coin, a sword and an arrow, and using a lance to hit a target.
“It’s really important to smile in this class,” she reminded the riders, shivering as the temperature dropped, then added an off-mic aside. “The person in charge of the weather needs to be fired. But all in all, this went great. The horses kept their brains in the colder air, though some got a bit fresh. G-Star did a fabulous job. We had 40 riders, 80 volunteers, and I don’t know how many family members. Everyone had fun.”
Instructor Sarah Menor, Ruth’s daughter, looked around with great satisfaction. “Oh my gosh, this is so great,” she said. “The kids absolutely love their costumes. The whole thing’s fabulous. G-Star did a wonderful job. And the fairy tale incorporates so many tactile prompts. Putting both reins in one hand. Picking up coins, arrows, swords. Hitting a target with a lance. It requires a lot of fine motor skills, but it’s also a lot of fun.”
The boys wore aluminum foil coats of armor and crowns, the girls wore flowing dresses and tall peaked caps. The horses wore fly sheet “armor.” The course was decorated with cutouts of knights in armor and trees.
Gloria Pompena’s daughter Heather rode in the equitation and trail classes. “This is great,” she said. “Really different from their normal riding, which is serious and proper. Today they got to enjoy themselves.”
“I liked getting dressed up,” Heather added.
Kasen Janse Van Rensburg, 7, also loved the whole Renaissance theme. “I liked being dressed up and the star in the middle of the bridge,” he said.
His mother, Britta, added, “He loves coming here and looks forward to it each week. The horses and people — they’re all great.”
Everyone helped themselves to the buffet-style lunch, which included hot dogs, sandwiches, chicken, assorted sides and desserts, filling plates and sitting around the tables under the covered arena, bundled up against the gusting wind.
Christina Shumilla, 15, was one of the G-Star students manning the course. “I help give them the sword to save the princess,” she said. “This is so amazing. These kids are having the time of their life, plus the horses are super cool. There should be more programs like this.”
Chelsea Packard, a licensed clinical social worker and instructor who began working at Vinceremos in July, was helping out and thoroughly enjoying herself.
“This is the busiest, most fun, chaotic, great event,” she said. “It’s my first time at one of these, and I’m so blessed to be here. The outpouring of support, the attention to detail — everything’s amazing. This has been three months in the planning, and it’s all running smoothly. I love seeing the riders’ excitement. It’s all about the connections: riders to horses, volunteers to riders. It’s such a family atmosphere. We’re all part of the Vinceremos family.”
For more information about Vinceremos, call (561) 792-9900 or visit www.vinceremos.org.
For more information about G-Star, call (561) 967-2023 or visit www.gstarschool.org.