Horse enthusiasts thrive in Brevard

There are few bonds stronger than that of a horse and a human. Ask any horse lover (and we did) to describe this unique relationship, and they have a difficult time putting it into words. For years, Brevard County has been home to an active equestrian community spanning the Space Coast.

Read on, as some of the area’s most devoted equine enthusiasts share their stories.

The Horse Source

Susan Thompson

While only a toddler at the time, Susan Thompson will never forget the day her father brought home their first horse.

“It was an instant attraction,” says Susan, a Melbourne resident.

An avid rider since age 10, this Georgia native has proven to be a viable resource for anything or anyone in the local equestrian community. She spent much of her childhood showing horses competitively alongside her parents before taking the reins herself, placing ninth in the world as a juvenile rider in the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.

In her mid-30s, she began competing actively throughout the Southeast in dressage, then, in her 40s, as a hunter/jumper.

“We are lucky in that Florida has become a mecca for shows, vets and anyone with a desire to become an equestrian,” she says. “It’s such a great sport that opens up so many doors.”

While she stopped taking lessons about a year ago, Susan said the companionship she’s developed with her horses, Wasabi and Ben, both of which she keeps at home, is something that will never change.

“It’s a special feeling,” she says. “It can’t be matched.”

Equine Inspiration

Dr. William Broussard

Indialantic’s Dr. William Broussard is CEO of Florida Eye Associates in Melbourne.

But each Thursday, he trades in his lab coat for a cowboy hat and travels the 38 miles to the Crescent J. Ranch in St. Cloud to focus on his other passion – land and animal conservation.

After the passing of their son, Allen, a wildlife ecologist, Dr. Broussard and his wife, Margaret, established a foundation in his memory.

It soon became the basis for an extensive conservation project, known today as Forever Florida, a 4,700-acre public nature preserve and ranch, featuring disappearing breeds of cattle and horses.

The latest edition being 12 purebred Santa Cruz Spanish Colonial horses, most of which were lost when brought to the mainland from Santa Cruz Island.

“They are such beautiful, gentle horses that accept humans amazingly well,” Dr. Broussard says.

While committed to his endeavor, Dr. Broussard says his son will always be the driving force behind his efforts.

“When I’m out on the land, out of sight from everybody and hear the wind in the pines, I know he’s with me,” Dr. Broussard says. “It’s a real connection.”

Unbridled Talent

Morgan Nelson

While her driver’s license is only a few months old, 16-year-old Morgan Nelson has racked up thousands of miles aboard another mode of transportation – horses.

The daughter of two horse enthusiasts, Morgan, a junior at Eau Gallie High School, began riding at age 5. It’s didn’t take long for her to discover a niche with hunters, equitation and now, as a jumper, atop her 10-year-old Oldenburg mare, “Ajolie.”

While her bedroom is filled with blue ribbons and trophies, Morgan’s modesty, coupled with her competitive nature, has taken her far – being named the county’s top rider in her discipline on several occasions.  Her four-member equestrian judging team also placed ninth in the nation in 2010.

Morgan, who hopes to one day become an equine geneticist, owes a lot of her success in the sport to her longtime membership with the Brevard County 4-H.

“I think riding is going to take me somewhere in life, in terms of my career,” Morgan says, “but it’s also a good foundation for life. It’s taught me about sportsmanship, dedication and building confidence.”


Proven Horsepower

Eileen Tighe

Most would agree that horses are powerful, beautiful creatures, but can they help improve corporate lifestyle? Eileen Tighe thinks so.

For 23 years, this Merritt Island resident and horse lover worked in corporate training for Carnival Cruise Lines.

Upon retiring, she volunteered with a South Florida organization, connecting horses with handicapped individuals.

“It gave me a new spirit and energy and really developed my path to where I am today,” Eileen says.

After seeing the results first-hand, she looked for a way to tie horses to the corporate world, and discovered equine assisted learning.

She soon founded Zen Ranch, a Brevard-based business that uses horses to strengthen companies and individuals.

During her sessions, she challenges teams or individuals to complete certain tasks, such as motivating a horse to walk in a certain pattern or getting him to lift his foot without riding or touching him.

“It challenges people to explore their own thought process and discover other ways to solve a problem,” Eileen says. “It’s also a great way to get people out of the work environment and reenergize.  For individuals, it strengthens communication and helps them feel a little more empowered.”

Family Ties

Joni McClure

A horse lover since childhood, Joni McClure is what some may call a “late bloomer” in the equestrian world.

But you’d never know it, seeing her home office adorned with trophies, blue ribbons and awards.

Joni, wife of MIMA physician Dr. Joseph McClure, began riding competitively in her early 40s, as a hunter/jumper before taking up dressage at age 50.

“I found that dressage was a lot more challenging for me because every movement is done so subtly,” she says. “So much that someone watching doesn’t even see what the rider did to make the horse move a certain way.”

While she still takes lessons, Joni has shifted her focus recently to her three grandchildren, for whom she just bought a Dartmoor pony, named “Phantom.”

He lives at the stables on the McClures’ 20-acre property in Malabar, alongside Joni’s beloved Canadian Warmblood, “Zack.”

“Whenever I’m with my horses, I get the same feeling I did when I was a little girl,” Joni says. “They’re such powerful animals, yet have such a sensitivity for their surroundings.”


In Perfect Harmony

Since 1992, Harmony Farms in Viera has served as a therapeutic haven for thousands of individuals with physical, mental, emotional and behavioral disabilities.

With assistance from certified therapeutic riding instructors, these individuals, ranging from age 4 to 48, can experience a newfound freedom that strengthens their bodies, as well as their minds.

Riding sessions aboard one of the facility’s 12 horses, are offered four days a week.

The facility is also home to summer camps, a large volunteer program and the Black Stallion Literacy Project, which uses horses to motivate children to read.

“It’s amazing to see a parent with tears in their eyes, listening to their child giggle with one of our horses,” says founder Pam Rogan. “They’ll tell me, ‘I’ve never once heard him giggle like that.’ The horses are definitely the motivators for everyone here.”


Riding in Style:

Whether you’re just learning to ride or curious about equestrian basics, it’s important to know the differences between the sport’s many “disciplines,” which can be classified into “English” and “Western” Riding.

“English” Riding:

• Hunter: horse is judged on its form, movement and smoothness while in the ring

• Jumper: timed event judged on the ability of the horse and rider to jump over a series of obstacles

• Dressage: resembling dancing, horse and rider perform a series of complex maneuvers in a ring while judged on their form

• Eventing: combines the obedience of dressage with the athletic ability of cross-country and show jumping

“Western” Riding:

• Reining: requires both horse and rider to perform a precise pattern on the course

• Cutting: requires the horse and rider to select and separate a cow out of a small herd of 10-20 animals; it is then the horse’s job to keep the cow from returning

• Pleasure: horse is judged on the relaxation and pleasantness of its demeanor

• Games: a variety of categories, including barrel and pole bending

The Mane Attractions: Learning to ride in Brevard County

Depending on the discipline you’d like to explore, there are numerous venues throughout the Space Coast to help get you started, so saddle up!

• Lake Washington Stables & Equestrian Center, 4510 Lake Washington Road, Melbourne; (321) 751-0030

• Heavenly Horse Stables, 3900 Pinewood Road, Melbourne; (321) 276-5277

• Royal Palm Hannoverians, 1817 Jones Road, Melbourne; (321) 242-5988

• Brevard Equestrian Center, 4850 Old Dixie Highway, Grant; (321) 960-2305

• North Hammock Stables, 2055 Chase Hammock Road, Merritt Island; (321) 453-5918

• Thunder Oaks Ranch, 2511 N. Friday Road, Cocoa; (321) 631-1504

• Dessert Acres Stables, 5035 Florida Palm Ave., Cocoa; (321) 759-1605

• Half Halt Stables Dressage, 655 N. Burnett Road, Cocoa; (321) 636-0536

• HorseSisters & Associates, 124 S. Park Ave., Titusville; (321) 385-0216

• Waterhorse Farm, 7341 Glenwood Road, Cocoa; (321) 652-1455