Harley’s special endeavors

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 24, 2013


LAPLACE – Over the years, the Harley for Horses fundraising event has grown not only in size, but also in purpose.
Sunday marked the 14th year of the annual motorcycle run, an event that gathers motorcycle enthusiasts from far and wide together for a special ride that helps a good cause:  proceeds from the event go toward the Greater New Orleans Theraputic Riding Center, a non-profit organization that provides horse-assisted therapy and activities to children and adults with disabilities.
But this year, the event was also held in memory of one of the fallen. St. John the Baptist Parish Deputy Brandon Nielsen annually arranged the police escort for the Harley riders; Nielsen was killed in the line of duty in August 2012.
“For the last several years, it was always one call and that’s all,” said Anita Hefler, executive director of the GNOTRC. “I just needed to give Brandon the date of the event, and he’d take care of everything.”
Nielsen’s parents, Steve and Wendy Nielsen, learned that this year’s ride was to be held in honor of their son, who was a Harley enthusiast himself. They decided to participate, traveling from Fort Worth, Texas, to do so.
“I had a Harley for Horses shirt that he gave me,” said Steve Nielsen. “He loved this event.
“Ever since his death, we’ve really seen what he’s meant to people and what kind of person he truly was. He always wanted to help anyone that he could in any way that he could.”
He said that he often had friendly verbal jousts with his son about their taste in bikes.
“I had a bike, a Suzuki. Brandon loved his Harley,” he said. “There was always a mutual respect about it, and we’d rib each other. When he passed, I decided that I’d like to get a Harley.  I went down to New Orleans Harley Davidson, and they delivered to us.”
Hefler said the event was always a perfect fit for the deputy.
“It combined his two loves, two of his favorite things in the world,” said Hefler.
The riders began at LaPlace Travel Center on U.S. Highway 51 and traveled to Fred’s on the River in Port Vincent for lunch, before convening back in LaPlace at Fatty’s Main Street Grill  for music, more food and fun.
The therapy at the GNOTRC helps those with afflictions such as spina bifada, cerebral palsy and delayed developmental disorder.
As per tradition, the man known to the riders as “Doc” led the pre-ride prayer while also putting into perspective the event’s traditional cause.
“We all love to ride. But what if you couldn’t? What if people always looked at you as if there is something wrong, making you feel like you’re something less?” he said. “But for many who take advantage of the service Anita provides, they can ride a horse and feel normal, even powerful.
“For some of these little biddies, it can help them start walking again, to start regaining their balance.”
Hefler said that this year, the event was as important as ever. The riding center flooded during Hurricane Issac, causing Hefler to close the center for four months.
“Unfortunately, horses still eat and need to be tended to and cleaned up after, even if you’re shut down,” said Hefler.
“So our expenses continued even though the income stopped. So this fundraiser is very important,” she added.
Once again, the event had a large turnout, with 180 bikers in all making the voyage and more than $12,000 raised in all.
The ride came on a day with great, sunny weather, something Hefler attributes to some help from an old friend: Harley the pig, who was donated to Hefler’s riding center 13 years ago. Harley served as the event’s mascot until his death before the 2011 event. Harley for Horses has been run in honor of Harley’s memory ever since, and Hefler often credits the pig for making sure that the weather for the event is perfect.
“And now Brandon’s looking out for our safety, too,” said Hefler.