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Renowned Equestrian Performers Make Beautiful Music at the MTRA Symphony Of Horses

by Diana Davidson

GAINESVILLE, Fla.—The Stephen C. O’Connell Center is the home of the 2006 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Champion University Of Florida Gators. On Sunday, Dec. 10, 2006, the O’Connell Center was transformed into the site of the third Marion Therapeutic Riding Association (MTRA) Symphony Of Horses. World-renowned equestrians and equines from throughout the United States came together to perform to the music of the Central Florida Philharmonic Orchestra. All of the talented performers and musicians had a common goal: to celebrate the amazing work and success of the MTRA program that allows dreams to come true.

MTRA is located in
Ocala, Fla., and has been operating since 1985. This program provides children and adults challenged by physical, mental or emotional disabilities the extraordinary physical and emotional benefits of horseback riding and driving. The Symphony Of Horses has been a major fundraising event for MTRA as the 2006 edition followed those held in Ocala in 2002 and 2004.

The outpouring of support from sponsors, community businesses and leaders, performers, audience members and countless volunteers for MTRA and Symphony Of Horses will assist in the various needs of this program.

“On behalf of MTRA, its distinguished members of the Board Of Directors, and the true backbone of our organization– our hard-working volunteers, I am delighted with the reception to this evening of gala entertainment– The Symphony Of Horses 2006,” remarked MTRA Executive Director and Symphony Of Horses Chair Earleen Kenyon. “MTRA is indeed delighted, humbled and very grateful for the support and generosity of everyone involved in the Symphony Of Horses and how much it will enhance the lives of MTRA riders and drivers.”

Members of MTRA, dignitaries, horse lovers and music lovers from throughout the United States gathered at the O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla., 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, an enthusiastic crowd eagerly awaited the start of a great performance.

World Championship announcer and master of ceremonies for the evening, Peter Fenton welcomed the audience from center ring as he introduced the Central Florida Philharmonic Orchestra led by Conductor Susan Robinson. The performance began with Brittany Taylor Visser singing the Star Spangled Banner while the Morgan world’s premier parade stars enjoyed the center ring spotlight. The unanimous 2006 Morgan Grand National and World Championship Parade Champion HVK Pavarotti and Steven DeBolt proudly represented Herbert V. Kohler and Kohler Stables of Kohler, Wis., as they were joined by Arthur L. Perry of Santa Ynez, Calif., himself a 10-time Morgan Grand National Parade Champion and 28-time Rose Bowl Parade performer, to present the colors.

Melissa Warner of Gloria Austin’s Austin Horse Park and Carriage Museum of Weirsdale, Fla., escorted several dignitaries into the ring in one of the 170 carriages housed there. Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan of Gainesville, Star Banner publisher Alan Parsons, Gainesville Sun publisher Jim Doughton and MTRA Board Member and Seminole Feed Vice President Randy Samko were among the passengers.

Misdee Wrigley Miller of Hillcroft Farm in Paris, Ky., and her four-in-hand of Dutch Harness horses carried University of Florida President Bernie Machen’s wife Chris Machen, University of Florida Large Animal Hospital Chief of Staff Dr. Eleanor Green and Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine Dr. Glen Hoffsis and wife Lana Hoffsis into the ring. Miller and her newly imported four-in-hand from Germany returned later in the show to demonstrate the exciting “quick change” from the world of coaching to the delight of the audience.

Direct from Orlando’s famous Arabian Nights, a live production of Walter Farley’s Black Stallion captivated the audience. The professional entertainers continued as Denny Chapman opened his bag of tricks with his Indiana Jones act. In a return to the Baroque era, the Andalusian and Lusitano horses took center stage with a Pas De Trios presented by Caballos de los Cristiani and All The King’s Horses.

Sir Thomas Reed from Medieval Times Dinner Theatre in Kissimmee, Fla., demonstrated the age of chivalry and knighthood with amazing pure Spanish stallions to the delight of the crowd. The majestic Paso Fino returned to the spotlight as seven-time National Champion El Chino de El Batey 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 athletic ability and agility of the jumper featured ever-rising jumps with Grand Prix Champion Derek Peterson of Archer, Fla., joined by Jared Peterson, Jenny Childs and University of Florida student Kaleigh Pratt.

Following a brief intermission, the breathtaking beauty and the versatile talents of the Morgan horse were back in the spotlight. Six-time World Champion and nine-time National Champion Sasha Klein paired up with her athletic Park Harness World Champion FZM Encore to entertain the audience. The Morgan stars continued to shine brightly as World Champion Santa Fe Renegade returned to his native Alachua County following his performance in the closing ceremonies of the World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany. Renegade and Eitan Beth-Halachmy of Grass Valley, Calif., demonstrated their artistic “Cowboy Dressage.”

The spotlight is nothing new for Carson Kressley, the fashion designer, television star of “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy,” author and accomplished equestrian. Kressley is an avid philanthropist, championing a wide array of charities and organizations including MTRA. He rode a pair of American Saddlebred champions from the state of Florida as he matched up with Frank and Betty Rozzo’s colorful Dali and returned later with Joy Rodak’s talented Hidden Agenda.

Mary Rivers along with trick rider Dawn Rivers and their exotic Friesians created a Medieval fantasy with their endearing performance. The agility, grace and speed of the polo ponies and their talented riders were on display as James Miller of Paris, Ky., along with a trio of riders from the Villages Polo Club of Ocala, Fla., demonstrated this fast-paced game.

Another of the evening's big crowd-pleasers was Ocala resident and internationally accomplished driver Chester Weber. The audience showed their support with a sporting event fan favorite “the wave” as Weber and his four-in-hand team, who had just won the Gold Medal in the dressage phase of combined driving at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany, performed.

During his performance in the 2004 Symphony Of Horses, internationally renowned horseman Pat Parelli promised he would be back with a father and son performance with his son, Caton, who was born with hydrocephalus and had a stroke at 12 years of age. Now 23, Caton works at his father’s side daily as his assistant trainer. Caton and Aspen, who he raised from a foal, were a true inspiration as they performed alongside Pat Parelli and his amazing mare Magic.

As the Central Florida Philharmonic Orchestra played Stars And Stripes, an amazing group of equestrian and equine performers shared the spotlight in the Grand Finale. It was truly an amazing evening in honor of a marvelous organization– The Marion Therapeutic Riding Association.

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