Harley for Horses takes to road Sunday

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 18, 2012



LAPLACE – It’s your average, run of the mill story about horses, motorcycles and a pig.

Usually, these three things may seem to go together as well as ice cream and roast beef. But if not for Hurricane Katrina, the Harley for Horses annual motorcycle run would be set to roll for the 13th consecutive year this Sunday.

As it stands, this is year 12 of what has become an extremely popular annual fundraiser. Proceeds from the event benefit the Greater New Orleans Therapeutic Riding Center, a non-profit organization that assists children and adults with disabilities through horse-assisted activities.

Anita Hefler, executive director of the GNOTRC, said that as of Monday, 45 people had preregistered to ride, up from a usual tally that peaked in the 30s. She said the hope is to have over 200 riders this year, after 150 participated a year ago.

The event has definitely grownover the years. When the event was originally created, Hefler said the number of riders was closer to 80.

“People seem to really enjoy the ride,” she said. “It’s not something where we have to stop at a bunch of places. It’s a beautiful route. And there’s a police escort, so people feel safe.

“Really, I think one of the main reasons (that more people are participating) is just that people love to be involved in something. You’re part of a big group, and it’s for a good cause.”

The run begins at the LaPlace Travel Center on U.S. Highway 51. The riders will stop for lunch at Fred’s On The River in Port Vincent, and the run will end back in LaPlace at Cadillac’s Rock and Country Saloon on Airline Highway — the latter serving as the run’s endpoint for the second straight year.

“Everyone liked how it worked out last year,” said Hefler. “A good thing (about Cadillac’s) is that you can stay outside or go indoors. Sometimes people want to get out of the sun after being out in the heat all day.”

Of course, none of this would be possible without the run’s inspiration and namesake — not Harley Davidson but Harley the pig, who was all but orphaned before being taken in by Hefler and her co-workers 14 years ago.

“Somebody called us … they asked us to take care of Harley. They learned that they weren’t allowed to have a pig in their neighborhood,” said Hefler. “But we weren’t set  up to take care of a pig. We were set up for horses.”

The woman who called promised to pay the center monthly to take care of the pig.

That arrangement didn’t last, however.

“She brought Harley and started crying crocodile tears. Then she stopped showing up entirely. We tried to call her husband, and he denied that they ever owned a pig,” she said.

But the most was made of a potentially sour situation. From Harley’s name came an idea.

“We thought that with a name like Harley, there might be a bunch of guys and girls that might want to help us out here,” said Hefler.

Soon, the fundraiser was born, at the time to raise enough money for the center to properly take care of Harley. Then, in subsequent years, to help the GNOTRC provide a lift for those in need.

“We made Harley the mascot,” she said.  

Over the years, Harley has been quite a good luck charm. In the run’s previous 12 years, it has been rained out just once, a streak that weather forecasts as of Monday predicted would continue.

“We’ve been blessed, always, when it comes to that,” Hefler said.

Harley passed away before last year’s race. Hefler said at the time that she had thoughts to bring the event to an end, with its namesake having passed on. She was talked out of it, however – too many people look forward to and enjoy the event.

Now, the Center provides a home for two new pot-bellied pigs that carry on in Harley’s memory.

“They’re filling Harley’s shoes,” Hefler said. “But we’re not changing the name of the event. It began because of Harley.”

Last year’s event raised $9,600 for the GNOTRC Registration for the race will begin at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, with the ride departing at 11 a.m. The entry fee is $30 for a single rider and $45 for a rider with a passenger. After the run, musical entertainment will be provided by the band Sac-a-lait from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Cadillac’s. Anyone who wishes to join in the post-event festivities and help benefit the cause may do so with a $10 donation.

On that departing time, Hefler said an 11 a.m. start indeed means an 11 a.m. start and the launch of the motorcycles will be prompt.

Impressive, too.

“When you see all those motorcycles taking off one after another, it’s always a sight to behold,” she said.