SMART wants to expand therapeutic riding with $25,000 in Home Depot gift cards but needs votes

BRADENTON, Fla. - Looking at Linda Craig today, it's hard to tell she just learned how to ride a horse.

It's also impossible to tell that her son survived multiple attacks -- explosions -- and faces medical discharge from the Army this year.

"It was awful," she said. "I wandered around, trying to find something that I could do."

Wandering brought her to the Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy or SMART.  The all-volunteer program runs "Horses for Heroes," a free therapeutic riding program for veterans and their families.

Craig is still excited about all of the changes she's seen in herself and in those she's met through the program, especially other family members of combat veterans.

"They don't know if they're going to get a call. They don't know if they haven't heard from him in seven days, if that's a good thing or a bad thing," Craig said.

"To be able to ride a big animal like this when you feel like you're out of control of everything else in your life," explained Volunteer Director Gail Clifton. "They're really and truly totally different people when they leave. They're smiling. Their body language is open."

The Bradenton program has grown so popular they have a waiting list. Now, SMART needs to make major repairs and additions like wheelchair ramps so they can expand to serve more people.

They think they can get all the work done with $25,000 in Home Depot gift cards, except that goal is almost out of reach.

Home Depot selected the program for its nationwide "Aprons in Action" contest on Facebook, but with about a week left, SMART's trailing the leader by almost 11,000 votes.

"People are thinking they should just vote one time. It's vote every day, every day, every day," explained Team Depot Captain Renee Harland.

The current leader, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, gets about 600 votes every day. SMART only averages around 100.

"It became apparent pretty quickly that it was going to be a huge challenge for us," Clifton said.

The good news, however, is that SMART is used to challenges.  Craig still wanders, but now it's on a horse, which is exactly what she was looking for.

"I have conquered something that I didn't think I could do to become on with such a large animal," she said. "You get off a horse and feel happy and hopeful."

Voting continues through March 3. Anyone with a Facebook account can vote once a day at https://www.facebook.com/homedepotfoundation/app_380232235347479

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