The Naples Winter Wine Festival begins Friday. Hosted by Naples Children & Education Foundation, the event continues to be a prestigious gathering that raises millions of dollars every year for Collier County children’s charities.
Naples Therapeutic Riding Center is a charity that benefits from the annual festival, and it helps the nonprofit organization provide experiences for children like 6-year-old Garrison Betz.
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Betz was born with Angelman syndrome, a rare genetic neurological disorder that affects balance and the ability to walk and talk. Research has shown therapeutic riding can help. Over the past three years, Betz has come a long way.
“Going from always wheeling him up in his wheelchair, picking him up, putting him on the horse to being able to walk up the ramp to be able to get on the horse, that’s major progress,” said Betz’s mother, Katie Betz.
Missy Lamont, executive director of the riding center, said the physical connection helps riders make remarkable strides.
“The horse’s walk is just like our walk,” Lamont said. “And, if you’re in a wheelchair, you’re not working those muscles, and when you’re sitting on the back of a horse, it’s working those muscles for you.”
The riding center is one of dozens of nonprofits that receives funding from the NCEF, which supports at-risk and underprivileged children in Collier County.
“Keeping yourself upright on the horse takes a lot of core strength and a lot of balance,” Katie said. “And that’s one of the things this has been so great working for [Garrison].”
Naples Therapeutic Riding Center helps kids with a wide range of disabilities. As long as there is a doctor’s referral, kids can participate.
For Lamont, a child’s strides, smiles and first steps never gets old.
“These children are so courageous,” Lamont said. “They’re so strong, and they inspire me.”