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Deep in Golden Gate Estates, as homes often are, at the end of a dead-end road, down the driveway with the mailbox adorned with a horse decal, Track to Trail Thoroughbreds is making do.

The nonprofit, which specializes in the rehabilitation of off-the-track racehorses, is back in its original location since Hurricane Irma struck in 2017. Executive director Cynthia Gilbert knows it’s home, for now. But hopefully not for long.

“We’d like an official, dedicated property,” she said.

The volunteer rehabilitation efforts started informally about 8 years ago, Gilbert said, only formalizing about 4 years ago. It operated in Golden Gate Estates until Hurricane Irma devastated the property, forcing the nonprofit to relocate its horses and efforts into a space near the Pine Ridge area.

It wasn’t a good fit: being located near a road and the lights and hubbub of a suburban area made it difficult for the horses to relax. When the rental was up, Gilbert decided not to renew, opting to move back to Golden Gate Estates on a temporary basis until she can find a permanent space.

Most of the facilities for the horses have been rebuilt, though at least one moving crate sits in the yard since their relocation in December.

“Even our adopted cat is here,” Gilbert said.

Trees and bamboo clusters offer the horses shade, physical structures sectioning off the horses that need more rest during their rehabilitations. The nonprofit works to add as much as they can to improve the horses’ environment, but Gilbert knows they need more.

Though the duties have changed with the space, the workload hasn’t diminished.

A pool of between 100 and 150 volunteers keeps things operational, feeding the horses, mucking the stalls and otherwise caring for the critters. The duties are beyond that: If there’s not a horse to feed, there’s a fence to mend, a tree to plant, a project to work on.

One of the volunteers, Patti Ransford, has been working with Track to Trail for about a year and a half. For her, there is no better feeling.

“I do it for the love of the horse,” she said.

Ransford discovered Track to Trail when she drove by its location. When she lived in Chicago, she volunteered with horses, and was excited to get back to work.

“You see the changes in the horses,” Ransford said, but the progress isn’t limited to horses. “Everybody that comes out here to volunteer comes out with an open heart.”


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Seasonal resident Rowena Berringer discovered the nonprofit a few years ago and only about a month ago began volunteering.

“It’s a great feeling to give back,” she said. “I’m learning so much.”

Berringer said the team of volunteers is robust but they could always use more support. And volunteering isn’t all work. From one of the bamboo clusters, volunteers “fish for horses” — that is, they bend a bamboo shoot down over the fence, and horses clamor to grab a nibble of the greenery.

Gilbert said it’s important for the nonprofit to find a permanent property because it would give them the freedom to shape the space to their needs. In a rental space, they may not be permitted by the landlord to plant shade vegetation. On private property, there is no such limitation.

“It’s not ideal,” Gilbert said of the current living situation.

But right now, it’s home.

Andrew Atkins is a Naples Daily News features reporter. Contact him via email at andrew.atkins@naplesnews.com or on Twitter at @andrewjatkins.

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