Florida Sport Horse Club is a Natural Fit for These Locals
by MARY TOOTHMAN
It’s clear members of the Florida Sport Horse Club are into horses in a big way. But the 60 or so members of this equine-centered group ride those horses together as a conduit that reaches beyond their love of horses.
They get together pretty much every weekend to ride — and those trail trots lead members into Central Florida’s beautiful nature scenes — and, members say, into adventure.
A horse lover since she was a teen, Janet Schneider talks about the Florida Sport Horse Club with enthusiasm and dedication.
“I joined somewhere around 2006,” says Schneider, who is now retired. “I had decided that joining a horse club was important, because doing it alone on the trail wasn’t the safest thing to do — even though I had a really reliable horse.”
In those days, she says, she worked long hours and had a two-hour commute.
“That had shrunk my social network down to the point of non-existence,” she says. “I felt that a riding club would fill the gaps in my life — allow me to ride more often and make new friends.”
It all worked out after she spotted a notice in a local newspaper about the Florida Sport Horse Club. The group was planning its annual membership barbecue — and invited anyone interested to call.
“I did, and that was the beginning,” Schneider says. “The group was warm and welcoming, and the club’s riding style was exactly what I was searching for. Its community outreach appealed to me, too.”
Schneider, who has served as the group’s secretary since 2007, says members have worked on an ongoing basis to help the community in a variety of ways.
“The club has always tried to give back through work parties at some of our riding areas, donating picnic tables or raising money for projects like putting water lines in the Colt Creek State Park’s equestrian campground, providing input on public lands management plans, etcetera,” she says.
There are about 60 members — including some family groups, she says. “Some we see at trail rides, parties and meetings — some we only see on the trail. Some we only see at meetings, and a few only come to our parties or follow us with our emails.
“People do what they can, according to physical abilities and schedules. Some don’t even have horses any more, but having the club is their way of staying in the horse’s life.
There are more members who are women than men, she says — and that is fairly typical.
We have more women than men, and most are adults, but we do have a few young people. I think one thing that’s really special about our club is the participation level.
“When we have done things like the Get to Know Colt Creek pony rides, we had well over 50 percent of the club members turn out to help. That’s pretty phenomenal.”
The club members enjoy s a diverse mix of activities— and they do not all take place via horseback. Schneider provided a list of club activities from August 2018 to present. They include:
The draft management planning meeting for the Herky Huffman/Bull Creek Wildlife Management Area (August)
Took part in Triple B’s work party at Green Swamp West (August)
Made frequent attempts to discuss the Hampton Tract’s trail and parking issues (ongoing)
Organized and ran Colt Creek State Park’s 2nd Family Fun Ride (February)
Gave pony rides at the annual “Get to Know Colt Creek” event (March)
Gave pony rides at the Bunch Ranch “Day Without Disabilities” (March)
Gathered pine needles at Colt Creek State Park and spread them in the Butterfly Garden (April)
Gave pony rides at the Polk City Library’s summer reading rewards program (June)
Attended public hearings for the 10-year management plans for Alafia River State Park and Hillsborough River State Park (May & June)
Provided comments at the public hearing for the Polk Parkway expansion, which will cut through part of the Marshall Hampton Reserve
Provided a horsey “meet and greet” to the 2019 Cub Scout Day Camp (July)
Planted pines at Lower Green Swamp (July)
So these horse people are busy. And, according to Schneider, very companionable as well. And the horses? Diversity matters.
“People really go out of their way to help each other when it’s needed,” she says. “We have a real mix of horses, although most are gaited, like Tennessee Walkers, Foxtrotters, and Pasos. But we also have Arabs, Thoroughbreds, and Quarter Horses. We love them all.
An important club cause is trail preservation, she says. “Development is encroaching in many areas, and more people are using the trails in different ways,” she says. “There’s hiking, biking, geocaching, etcetera.”
And while all the community awareness and service is important — as is looking out for Florida’s historic trails — perhaps the most valuable reward for membership is companionship — good old Florida friendships.
Like most things Floridian, these friendships are formed despite the heat — and between all types of people.
Member Judy Clononger says club friendships are formed in spite of the sometimes brutal temperatures — and chatty types can ride right along with the silent ones.
“I personally don’t do well in the heat, so I either do groundwork with the horse early or just ride at home,” she says. “I like the camaraderie of our group. Sometimes there is lots of chatter and sometimes it’s just enjoying God’s creations.”
For more information about the club: