Derby day fundraiser raises money for Specialized Equine Service - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Derby day fundraiser raises money for Specialized Equine Services

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CARBONDALE -- Saturday was the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby, and across the country people gathered in to watch the big race. 

It was a similar scene in the Carbondale Civic Center with guests dressed in big hats and fun suits, but watching the Derby came in second to the primary focus: raising money for Makanda-based Specialized Equine Services. 

The organization provides therapeutic horseback riding for people with physical, emotional, cognitive and social disabilities, and dozens of people came to raise money for the cause. 

For Kim Booker,  the organization has helped her 6-year old daughter autistic daughter Alina leave her shell.

"She's been a ton more independent and she's been joyful whenever she's been on the horse," Booker said. "She's smiling, she's singing, she's interacting with the horse and the other people that work around there too."

Emily Novara has been volunteering with the organization for about a decade… she says watching special needs children grow and develop through horseback riding encouraged her to go not special education.

"We've had kids say their first words on the horse, and just seeing incredible things happen through the power of the horse," Novara said.

She says watching kids like Alina expand their horizon and open up is one of the greatest feelings in the world.

"Those moments are just yay moments that we can't even explain," she said. "It's just such a victory."

In addition to the Derby watch party, the fundraiser featured a silent auction and a raffle where people chose the horse they thought would win.

Organizers say the event, dubbed Sweethearts of the Saddle, is expected to raise tens of thousands of dollars for the Specialized Equine Services.

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