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A Season Of Miracles...The MTRA Symphony Of Horses

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).

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 proceeds from the successful inaugural Symphony Of Horses in 2002 helped to achieve a major goal of construction of a covered arena at the MTRA facility. Due to the wonderful achievements of this program and the hundreds of youths and adults whose lives are improved and enriched, MTRA continues to experience phenomenal growth. In 2003, the Florida Greenways granted 30 acres to MTRA to develop a second location. The outpouring of support from sponsors, community businesses and leaders, and countless volunteers for MTRA and Symphony Of Horses will assist in the development of this new facility and the various needs of the program.

Members of MTRA, dignitaries, horse lovers and music lovers from throughout Marion County and far beyond gathered on Sunday night, December 5, 2004, 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 sellout crowd filled the box seats and grandstands to enjoy the show.

World Championship announcer and master of ceremonies for the evening, Peter Fenton welcomed the audience from ringside 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 two large video screens which featured footage from the ring as well as videos about MTRA and some of the evenings participants.

The focus of the evening was "A Season Of Miracles" as the amazing horses performed accompanied by the beautiful music. Peter Fenton welcomed the audience and introduced some very special individuals who are themselves miracles. The MTRA riders are Kathy Gray (three time winner of the UPHA Exceptional Challenge Cup), Mary Lisa Dyer, Jordan Hensley, Megan Sear, Evelyn Griffin, Henry Boardsma and Hunter Witt. The audience then welcomed 14-year-old Brittany Taylor Visser, an exceptional soprano who sang the "Star Spangled Banner" accompanied by the flag bearer He's A Class Act, an accomplished American Saddlebred in the dressage arena, ridden by Karen Licciardi and owned by Dancing Horses Farm.

The first act was a tribute to the legendary Quarter Horse stallion Rugged Lark by his owner Carol Harris. In addition to a video tribute to the deceased stallion, his son Our Gallant Lark made a special appearance with MTRA rider Mary Lisa Dyer.

The Morgan Horse is America's oldest breed and has played an integral part in our nation's equine heritage. A diverse quartet of Morgans performed as a patriotic ensemble. The group featured Grand National Western Pleasure Champion Gulfwind Sir William and Margaret McKnight Karrh, Park Harness World Champion Arboria Noble Victor and Tom Johnson, National and International Carriage Driving Champion Gaitwood Lightwing and Fred Merriam, and In Hand Stallion Champion Grand Cru Dom Perignon and Cheri Barber.

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 and Veronica Crawford from Peninsular Farm. Gloria Austin brought two beautiful Friesians and carriages from Austin Horse Park home of Continental Acres Equine Resort and the Austin Carriage Museum. Gloria Austin along with Melissa Warner drove the carriages with guests Ocala Mayor Gerald Ergle and State Representative Larry Cretal.

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.

Sir Thomas Reed from Medieval Times in Kissimmee, Florida demonstrated the age of chivalry and knighthood with a pair of Andalusian stallions Conquistador and Hassen-Do-So to the delight of the crowd. Another of the evening's big crowd-pleasers was Ocala resident and internationally accomplished driver Chester Weber. Weber and his four-in-hand team captivated the audience as they continued their strong support of MTRA.

A dressage/dance duet followed with Karen Rohlf performing aboard a Lippizan gelding with another gray horse on the line. Dancers Gina Paollio and Blake Pierson from New York's Julliard School accompanied them in this artistic presentation.

The American Saddlebred took center stage as a trio 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's Champion Callaway's True Grit with Ocala's own Dr. Steve Gilman in pleasure driving, Reserve World's Champion Mogul and Claire Karst in three-gaited park, and Champion LA Boca Raton and Maria Gilman in five-gaited.

The excitement of Thoroughbred racing was felt as a quartet of horses and jockeys represented some of Ocala's top racing stables. In addition, the former stakes winner and sire of 40 top prospects, Statesmanship joined the Thoroughbred contingent.

The brilliance and diversity of the Arabian breed was showcased by six top champions with RA Darktown Strutter in Native Costume, MSU Flaming Afire in English Pleasure, Candlelight V in Show Hack, JBK Millenium in Hunter Pleasure, Prince Of Thieves in side saddle, and Vizcaya RA in Western Pleasure.

Internationally renowned horseman Pat Parelli demonstrated his "Savvy System" of Natural Horsemanship partnered with the stallion Casper and the mare Magic. Their performance at the Symphony Of Horses kicked off Parelli's "Love, Language and Leadership" Tour with a crowd-pleasing performance.

The grand finale of the evening was 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 22-year-old stallion posed and trotted loose to the cheers of the audience accompanied by the theme song of the Symphony Of Horses "When You Wish Upon A Star".

The performances of the evening and the amazing work done by Marion Therapeutic Riding Association was a great way to kick off what is certain to be "A Season Of Miracles".

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