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Dreams Do Come True At Symphony Of Horses 2002

by Diana Davidson
Posted April 3, 2002
OCALA, Fla., - Ocala is well-known as the center of the far-ranging equine industry in the state of Florida. Noteworthy members of the equine community along with several Florida dignitaries came together for an incredibly worthwhile cause as they gathered for the Symphony Of Horses to benefit the Marion Therapeutic Riding Association (MTRA). Event chairman Earleen Kenyon spent over a year organizing the gala evening of entertainment. Kenyon and MTRA were "delighted, humbled and very grateful for the genuine outpouring of support and generosity".

The many varied members of the horse industry involved in the event gave freely of their time, expertise and resources to support this memorable event. The Symphony was designed as a fundraiser for MTRA, a charitable organization which is an accredited riding center of the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA). MTRA provides the opportunity for individuals challenged by physical, mental, and emotional disabilities to take advantage of the extraordinary physical and psychological benefits of horseback riding and driving. The amazing success of the evening guaranteed the building of a covered riding arena for the hundreds of youths and adults whose lives are improved and enriched by MTRA.

Members of MTRA, dignitaries, horse lovers and music lovers from throughout Marion County and far beyond gathered on Sunday night, March 17 for an evening filled with great horses, riders and drivers; beautiful music; and unforgettable memories. Following an elegant VIP party for sponsors, participants and dignitaries, a near sellout crowd filled the box seats and grandstands to enjoy the show.

World Championship announcer Peter Fenton welcomed the audience from center ring as he introduced the Central Florida Philharmonic Orchestra led by Conductor Susan Robinson. The Orchestra was positioned at the far end of the ring with a large video screen behind them which featured footage from the ring as well as a video about MTRA and some of the evenings participants.

Some of the dignitaries of the evening who included; Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, Congresswoman Karen Thurman, Congressman Cliff Stearns, and Ocala Mayor Gerald Ergle were welcomed into the ring in a coach pulled by a four-in-hand of Friesians driven by Misdee Wrigley. The audience then welcomed 11-year-old Brittany Taylor Visser, an exceptional soprano who sang her own stirring rendition of "When You Wish Upon A Star". Visser was brought into the ring by David Saunders, formerly a coachman to the Queen Of England, driving a pair of swift-moving black Morgans owned by Steve and Mary Lou Gilman.

The evenings performances began with four of the colorful Gypsy Vanner horses from Bill and Joanne Thorup's Bit A Both Farm displaying the magical look and ancestry of this rare breed. Two of Ocala's star real estate agents, Gary and Catherine Achtenhagen entertained the crowd next as they spun and slid their Quarter Horses in a great display of Freestyle Reining.

Misdee Wrigley and Mark Schofield along with their quartet of Friesians returned next with an upbeat and much applauded performance which showed the grooms' prowess in Putting To Coach. The Selle Francais gelding Talk The Talk and Stacy Parvey put on a well choreographed show of dressage movements in the Musical Kur.

Christina Schlusemeyer's Quiet Hill Farm showed the many facets of the Hunter-Jumper as six of their National Champion riders performed with precision, jumping in various combinations and heights. The nationally renowned mounted drill team, Stardust Drill Team then showed off their moves mounted on their flashy Paso Finos.

The great Thoroughbred racehorse and sire, Skip Trial made his presence known as the crowd applauded the handsome 20-year-old stallion who is the sire of 22 stakes winners including Skip Away. In a return to the Baroque era, the Andalusian and Lusitano horses took center stage presented by Tina Cristiani Veder and Bruno Gonzalez of Caballos de los Cristiani.

Following a brief intermission, the audience welcomed the legendary Quarter Horse stallion Rugged Lark, who performed along with up and coming national recording artist Paul Rogers. The incredibly beautiful and talented 21-year-old stallion seemed to delight in being back on center stage as he performed bridleless under saddle with US Olympian Lauren Hough, and then showed off some of his other talents with breeder and lifelong owner Carol Harris of Bo-Bett Farm.

The excitement had just begun as the audience then enjoyed the thrill of the race. Ocala resident and internationally accomplished driver Chester Weber and Grand Prix Jumping Champion Aaron Vale continued their heated rivalry with a match race to the delight of the audience. Weber and his four-in-hand of ponies were matched against Vale and his high jumping mount in a race of speed and dexterity with internationally known David Freedman stepping in to judge the match. The best two-out-of-three turned into a best of four with Aaron Vale narrowly defeating Chester Weber to the cheers of the crowd.

The majestic Paso Fino was back in the spotlight as seven time National and Grand National Champion El Chino de El Batay made his presence known. JR Morales rode the black stallion as Cheri Prill danced along with them in her Flamenco dress as they interpreted the ancestry of the Paso Fino.

The American Saddlebred took center stage as a quartet of champions from Judd Stables entertained the crowd with style and elegance. The ability, personality and intelligence of the American Saddlebred were perfectly exhibited by World Champion Callaway's True Grit and Lois Vartanian in pleasure driving, World Grand Champion Diamond Assets and Claire Karst in show pleasure, Champion Deliah Rose and Kelly Perez in three-gaited, and Champion Discover and Maria Gilman for owner Barbara Woods in five-gaited.

The Morgan Horse is America's oldest breed and has played an integral part in our nation's equine heritage. A trio of Morgans from Cheri Barber Stables undoubtedly gained even more fans of the popular and versatile breed. The oohs and aahs of the audience were audible as the weanling filly Stonecroft Deuces Wild strode into the ring beside her dam Stonecroft Samsara. The foal who was born 02-02-02 and her dam are owned by Stonecroft Farm and were presented by Richard Boule and Larry Bonnell for Cheri Barber. They were followed by the legendary Morgan stallion Tug Hill Commando who was presented by Cheri Barber for owners Drs. Jerome and Shirley Modell of Gradell Farm and Carol Hudson of Treble's Morgan Manor. The 20-year-old stallion posed and trotted loose to the cheers of the audience.

The gorgeous Arabian stallion Good Thunder was presented by owner Mari Kate Matthews in the true splendor of the Arabian Native Costume. The 19-year-old bay is a living legend who has earned numerous National Championships under the direction of Rohara Arabians. The Missouri Fox Trotter showed its trademark Fox Trot as well as its qualities of durability, smoothness and sure-footedness that made it the mount of many 19th century settlers in the Ozark Mountains courtesy of a handsome palomino from Ocala FoxTrotter Ranch.

The final act featured a western stagecoach also known as a Concord coach pulled by four Friesians driven by owner Gloria Austin. Austin owns and operates Continental Acres Equine Resort home to an amazing carriage collection, many educational clinics and competitions.

The grand finale of the evening featured many of the evening's performers returning to the resounding applause of the audience. Many of the horses were brought up to the box seating area where MTRA riders were given the opportunity to meet the horses, riders and drivers. The Symphony of Horses was a smashing success for a great cause thanks to the volunteers, participants, sponsors and everyone who attended and helped to make dreams come true.

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