Gulfstream Park jockeys Tyler Gaffalione and Joe Bravo paid a visit to Whispering Manes Therapeutic Riding Center in Miami to help further the non-profit organization's mission of using horses to promote physical, mental and emotional well-being.
The Eclipse Award-winning apprentice of 2015 and a native of Davie, Fla., Gaffalione and Bravo, a winner of more than 5,300 career races, spent the afternoon interacting with participants and staff at the Miami-Dade County farm purchased in 2010 by Nancy Hector, a philanthropist and champion of children's causes.
“Did you see the smiles the kids got that came out? I understand they come here twice a week and they come and ride anywhere between an hour to two hours a day, and the kids are happy,” Bravo said. “It's really great to see [the horses] brought a lot of joy after racing. Every horse is so well taken care of. They're dappled out, they're healthy. The horses, they've got a pretty good second career.”
One of the newest additions to Whispering Manes is Cool Man Walkin, a 7-year-old former Thoroughbred that won two of 10 starts from 2014 to 2016, all at Gulfstream. He was donated to the farm by Florida Thoroughbred Retirement and Adoptive Care (TRAC).
“This is a lot of fun. I enjoy getting to talk with some of the kids. They all have great stories and it's just fun getting to hang around them,” Gaffalione said. “It's great that Florida TRAC donated the horse. He seems like he's doing real well here. He's well-behaved and the kids get along with him well. It seems like they're doing a great job.”
Robin Bramson, the program director and head riding instructor at Whispering Manes, said Cool Man Walkin, bred in Florida by Dorothy Raffa, has been an outstanding addition to the farm.
“He's been great with the kids. The kids love him. He's very willing for any level of rider so the beginning riders he just goes along with it,” Bramson said. “We're very thankful for the donation of Cool. He's going to be a great asset to our program. He's already got people motivated to come out and try horseback riding a little bit more.
“It's been great to have the jockeys and the folks from Gulfstream here,” she added. “The jockeys really excited the kids and really kind of amped them up to find out more about horses. Now they're more interested. They're saying, 'When can we race?'”
Whispering Manes' mission is to benefit children and adults with special needs or disabilities by offering them the opportunity to interact with dedicated horses in a manner that promotes physical, mental and emotional well-being. It is their belief that people can develop therapeutic relationships with horses, crossing boundaries of speech and physical disabilities in a way that encourages healing and improved self-esteem.
“We work with people with all different disabilities. We have people here that have autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries. But, we've been branching out and trying to find ways to connect with more people and have more people come to learn the benefit of being around horses and working with horses,” executive director Erin Bauer said.
“I'm incredibly grateful to Gulfstream Park and Florida TRAC. Everybody has been incredibly kind and generous and has shared their belief and their faith in these horses and they're ability to be retrained to do something different,” she added. “I'm a believer.”
For more information about donating to or volunteering at Whispering Manes, visit www.whisperingmanes.org or call 305-596-4204.
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