MIDDLEBURY — Over 100 riders saddled up to take part in an 8-mile trail ride to benefit LoveWay Therapeutic Equestrian Services on Saturday, but about four times that many volunteers help to make those services a reality, according to organizers.  

The equestrian center held its 25th annual Ride-A-Thon, which is its second largest fundraiser. The funds are used to support the center’s rider base, said Shelley Becker, executive director.

LoveWay’s 29-acre center is between Bristol and Middlebury, with an indoor arena, outdoor arena, outdoor riding trails and about 20 horses. The Middlebury-based not-for-profit agency provides therapeutic equestrian programs to help improve the lives of children and adults with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities.

Currently, LoveWay serves 22 schools from Elkhart County in Indiana and Cass County in Michigan. Schools transport children on buses and all services are provided free of charge.

“Our Ride-A-Thon fundraiser is one of three fundraisers we have at LoveWay to keep us going and to keep our scholarship fund filled,” Becker said.

This semester, 182 students are riding at the facility with the help of roughly 400 volunteers, according to Becker.

The Elkhart County Exchange Club served a pancake breakfast before the ride. The day also included a live horse show from Sadie Fisher of “Unbridled Equine.” Fisher is a professional horse trainer and entertainer from Pennsylvania.

“We brought Sadie here to help us bring more of the community into LoveWay, which has been kind of a challenge for us each year,” Becker said. “We’re really not a drive-by and this was a way to get the community to be a part of LoveWay at a time when we’re not running classes.”

Becky McKenna said she’s been volunteering since she and her family moved to Bristol from Virginia in 2001, a decision she hasn’t regretted, she said. 

“Our daughter was middle-school-aged at that time and wasn’t happy about moving and leaving her friends,” McKenna said. “She liked horses so we thought LoveWay would be a great place for her and me to come and learn, and at the time she was old enough to do Saturday morning teams, a program they had that brought us here.”

McKenna said what’s kept her there is that the organization feels like a family.

“LoveWay has evolved and has gotten better over the years, which is in large due part to the fabulous staff and volunteers,” she said. “I’m just pleased to see the progress it’s made and has continued to make.

Becker said she believes the Ride-A-Thon provides a unique experience for horse owners to unite for fellowship and go trail riding to support a good cause.

“I think a lot of people take their horses and go trail riding, but this event allows them the opportunity to also support the children in our community,” she said.

Lori Nisely, a board member who’s volunteered at LoveWay for the past 25 years, offered a similar sentiment.

“It’s the most fun ride through the most beautiful countryside to raise money for the greatest organization in hundreds of miles,” she said.

The total amounts raised during the fundraiser were not immediately available. 

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