This is no simple joy ride

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 20, 2011



LAPLACE – “Many of these people may never feel completely normal for another day in their lives,” said Richard “Doc” Dorja of the Christian Motorcycle Association before leading a prayer. “But on that horse, they feel equal to and as powerful as anyone.”

Such is the ultimate reason for Sunday’s “Harley for Horses” motorcycle run, a fundraising benefit for the Greater New Orleans Therapeutic Riding Center, which promotes the well-being of children and adults with disabilities through horse-assisted activities.

The ride began at the St. John Travel Center and ended at Cadillac’s Rock and Country Saloon, where participants were treated to live music by Sac-A-Lait, food, fun and prizes.

This was 12th annual run of this event. And it all started with a pig.

Fourteen years ago, Anita Hefler — the executive director of the GNOTRC — had to solve a problem. A pig named Harley was donated to the riding center, but the center was not set up to house pigs. Furthermore, a promise to help pay every month to feed Harley went unfulfilled.

“We never heard from them again,” said Hefler.

But the ordeal gave Hefler an idea, one that quickly gained traction among those willing to help.

“It was a chance to take a lemon and make lemonade,” said Hefler.

“The name Harley inspired the idea. People think Harley for Horses is just a play on Harley Davidson, but it came from our mascot,” she said.

This year, the run spanned five parishes — St. John, Tangipahoa, Livingston, Ascension, and St. James — and 160 miles. For the first time, the bikers were escorted through the entirety of the event by the St. John Sheriff’s Office.

Hefler said that she could usually count on around 110 bikers. But this year that number climbed to 153, the best turnout the event has ever had.

“We were stuck on that 110 number for awhile,” she said. “But we finally broke through.”

The event raised over $9,600 dollars for the center.

The event was held this year in honor of Harley, who passed away in October. Hefler said that the death of Harley, combined with some of her own recent injury problems, drove her to think about calling off the event this year.

“But some of the parents said, ‘No, no, no, we’ll help,’” she said. “It’s very tough for a non-profit, especially today. But so many people have been helpful. We’ve got some donations and sponsors this year that have helped make it possible.”

It was a fitting day for a motorcycle ride, as the sun was out and the weather calm.

“It’s an awesome day to do this,” Hefler said. “We don’t usually have a rain date, and we didn’t again this year. People were nervous about that, but I always tell them, we don’t need a rain date. We’ve always been taken care of.”