By Sarah Whitman
Surrounded by her biggest supporters at HorsePower for Kids Inc., a nonprofit farm in Oldsmar, Fla., 4-year-old Maddie Dary visited ponies – and giggled.
For Maddie, who battles leukemia, it was a special morning at the farm, which houses more than 25 horses and 50-plus other animals on 15 acres.
A portion of the day’s visitor proceeds went to the Dary family to help manage medical expenses.
“They put all of this together for us,” said Greg Dary, Maddie’s dad. “It is amazing and overwhelming. This is a great place.”
Fundraisers are just one way HorsePower for Kids benefits children and families, said director and founder Armando Gort.
“The idea is for just $5 people can come spend the day, enjoy the animals and get outdoors, away from busy life,” he said. “We are a stable and a petting zoo. We have a full playground. You can come ride the horse trails or just sit under the trees.”
The son of Cuban immigrants, Gort, 56, grew up working on operational farms. As a boy, he fell in love with horses and dreamt of owning his own ranch.
In 1990, Gort opened a small stable in Safety Harbor. He offered pony rides. He lived on the property.
“I started the farm to help kids connect with animals,” Gort said. “We started with one pony and it grew from there.”
In 1994, Horsepower moved to its current location, hosting equestrian camps for children of all ages, including those with disabilities. Through the years, the farm became a second home for volunteers, children and teens. Regulars bonded with the animals, visiting on a daily or weekly basis. The farm made its mark as a field trip destination.
“I have seen so many kids benefit from time with the horses,” Gort said. “It helps with self-esteem and teaches discipline. At our farm, we have rules: No bullying, no kids picking on other kids. Being here is peaceful. It is therapeutic. ”
In 2005, Gort decided to open a full petting zoo, featuring pigs, cows, goats, sheep and free-roaming chickens. The farm also acquired less cuddly creatures, including lemurs, snakes, lizards, peacocks and a resident zorse, a cross between a zebra and a horse. Approximately 95 percent of the animals are rescues, Gort said.
Ella Dunham, 10, said she likes the ferrets best.
“They are so cute and funny,” said Dunham, whose father Randy volunteers at HorsePower. “I like getting to see all the animals and socialize with them. It’s really fun.”
Today HorsePower operates under a board of directors. More than 120 volunteers, ages 18 to 70, keep the nonprofit up and running. Some grew up visiting the farm. Others only recently discovered the property.
Located a few miles from bustling Hillsborough Ave., first -time visitors call HorsePower a hidden gem.
“We didn’t know all of this was here,” said Nora Gunderman of Tampa, who attended the fundraiser for Maddie Gary. “I think it’s a great place for families. We will definitely come back.”
If you go…
Horsepower for Kids
8005 S Racetrack Road, Tampa
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