There once was a pig named Harley

Published 8:29 am Wednesday, April 30, 2014



LAPLACE — Some clouds threatened to literally bring rain upon the parade of motorcyclists participating in Sunday’s 15th annual Harley for Horses fundraising ride.

But once again, the skies cleared up and there was no interference from Mother Nature.

“I think do Harley was looking out for us. But I think we definitely got an assist from Brandon, too,” said Anita Hefler, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Therapeutic Riding Center.

Hefler was referring to two names that have come to be synonymous with the event. The first was Harley the pig, the event’s namesake and mascot that passed away in 2011.

The second is former St. John the Baptist Parish Deputy Brandon Nielsen, who annually arranged the police escort for the Harley riders. Nielsen was killed in the line of duty in August 2012.

Harley for Horses gathers motorcycle enthusiasts together for a good cause, raising funds for the GNOTRC, which provides horse-assisted therapy and activities for children and adults with disabilities. The event was held in Nielsen’s honor last year and was once again in 2014.

Steve and Wendy Nielsen, Brandon’s parents, made the nearly 10-hour trip from Fort Worth, Texas, to attend the event and ride for a second straight year.

“We’re so honored that Anita, bless her heart, has dedicated Harley for Horses in Brandon’s memory,” said Wendy Nielsen. “It’s wonderful to see so many people and hear from so many people there who remember him and ride in memory of him.”

She noted that her son was a major motorcycle enthusiast and that he dreamed as a child of one day becoming a “motorcop,” a dream he’d indeed achieve as an adult.

“He’d see ‘CHIPS’ on television, and he wanted to be just like Ponch,” she said. “He and his bike were one. It was an extension of himself.”

The motorcycle run began at Fatty’s Main Street Grill after years of beginning at the LaPlace Travel Center on U.S. Highway 51.

“My only big concern was where everyone would park, but everyone lined up in the parking lanes,” said Hefler. “I will say, it was nice to be able to register people inside with the air condition.”

Hefler said that the event drew between 150 and 170 riders, which was down from its 2013 mark of 180 — the event’s best mark ever. But it was still an above-average draw for the ride, a more impressive figure when considering the competition it faced this weekend: Jazz Fest, the Zurich Classic and the St. Joan of Arc Fair in LaPlace.

“There was also a motorcycle rally in Baton Rouge. Three people rode with us that said they’d have usually gone there today,” said Hefler. “We usually would have run last weekend, but we couldn’t because of Easter. This was the only weekend we could move it to.”

Before the ride began, “Doc” — the man who traditionally leads the group prayer on event morning — put the day’s cause into perspective.

“You’re some really good people, because you’re faithful,” he said. “I see a lot of the same faces out here, over and over. You did something wonderful today without even knowing it. You woke up, got dressed, got on your bike … and that’s wonderful because there are those who have trouble with that.’

“Because of the help of people like you, Anita and her organization can give those people an hour to feel what we feel … to feel normal. On the back of that horse, some can learn how to walk.”

Mary Vicknair spoke briefly after the prayer. Vicknair’s daughter, Mandy, is one who has benefitted from riding at the GNOTRC.

“Miracles happen in that place. It’s happening,” she said, fighting back tears.

Once the ride was complete — riders traveled to Fred’s on the River in Port Vincent for lunch, before convening back in LaPlace — Fatty’s hosted the riders for food, drinks and music, with the band Sac-a-lait performing for the group.

“We had lots and lots of compliments,” said Hefler. “People stopped me to tell me they had a blast. It was an amazing ride.”