Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics

Carlton: Horses, kids, politics, and releasing your inner Dudley Do-Right

Volunteer McKenzie Johnson walks Christina Freeman on a horse named Chase this month after winning a second place ribbon. The Bakas Equestrian Center hosts an equestrian skills event for the Special Olympics in Tampa. Since 2001, physically and mentally disabled children have experienced the joy of horse-riding and forged deep connections with the animals at Bakas Equestrian Center. Parents say the time with horses gives their children more confidence and self-esteem and helps them improve their balance and coordination.  [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
Volunteer McKenzie Johnson walks Christina Freeman on a horse named Chase this month after winning a second place ribbon. The Bakas Equestrian Center hosts an equestrian skills event for the Special Olympics in Tampa. Since 2001, physically and mentally disabled children have experienced the joy of horse-riding and forged deep connections with the animals at Bakas Equestrian Center. Parents say the time with horses gives their children more confidence and self-esteem and helps them improve their balance and coordination.  [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
Published Feb. 25, 2017

One day you're just a rich guy with a really big business-and-beer name.

The next, people are eyeing you like you're Snidely Whiplash.

You remember Snidely — that dastardly cartoon villain in the black cape and mustache determined to tie the heroine to the railroad tracks?

Only we're not talking about Dudley Do-Right's damsel in distress in the real-life version here. We're talking about special needs kids and the horses who help them.

The 30-year-old Bakas Equestrian Center in the northwest corner of Hillsborough County is a place that parents of some mentally and physically disabled kids clearly love. The 22-acre property has a stable, an arena and a pond where the horses cool off. It's a place kids (and adults) go for therapeutic horseback riding activities — recreational rides, classes, camps, shows and Special Olympics.

But trouble is brewing at the property, which is owned by Hillsborough County.

As the Times Christopher O'Donnell reports, mega-beer distributor Tom Pepin has designs on that land. Which happens to be next to 67 acres upon which sits his $1.5 million home.

Though his original proposal said the property would be used partly for activities for disabled students at Pepin Academies charter schools, he later told the Times it would be for his own personal use. He's also agreed with the county not to develop the land.

The swap?

Pepin would build a new equestrian center.

Thirty-one miles away.

In Seffner.

Families that currently use the place and would have to travel across the county are — understandably —not happy with this potential twist. Even the woman who agreed to the sale of the Seffner land tells the Times she wouldn't have done it had she known about the kids who would be affected.

Pepin's intent may be pure, his goal a fair exchange. He contends the current property is too remote for most people to use. (Though for the record, Seffner is not exactly the teeming heart of a city).

He says the current property is underused, which would be news to the average 45 riders who go there weekly.

In the ensuing brouhaha, someone suggested that perhaps Pepin could find it in his (already considerable) philanthropic heart to build that center in Seffner but also leave the current property alone to be what it's been for years.

And no, no one gets to tell a guy what to do with his money. Even if it might mean instant transformation from villain to hero in certain circles.

By law, the county must consider proposals like the one Pepin has pending.

Right about here it is worth noting that he and his company have in the past made political donations to five of the seven county commissioners. It would behoove them to proceed with great caution and consideration, lest they suffer some of that Snidely Whiplash backlash themselves.

Because for commissioners to move forward like a train barrelling down the tracks — without due thought for the good this place has done right where it is, or for the appearance that there's nothing money can't buy — would be, in a word:

Dastardly.

Sue Carlton can be reached at carlton@tampabay.com.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. “My body, my choice” was the rallying cry on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade in the state Capitol, where abortion rights activists decried a fast-tracked bill that would raise the bar for minors seeking abortions. (AP Photo/Aileen Perilla) [AILEEN PERILLA  |  AP]
    Abortion supporters worry about Florida’s move toward parental consent and what may follow.
  2. Democratic presidential candidate, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at the ​U.S. Conference of Mayors' Winter Meeting, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) [PATRICK SEMANSKY  |  AP]
    It’s also the first visit by any Democratic contender this year
  3. Jimmy Patronis had been appointed to the state’s Public Service Commission by Gov. Scott.
    FDLE cited a ‘potential conflict,’ Leon County State Attorney Jack Campbell said.
  4. Gov. Ron DeSantis. [STEVE CANNON  |  AP]
    Florida students will read more classical literature and learn math differently, according to summary documents.
  5. Florida House Speaker José Oliva made hospital deregulation one of his top priorities. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
    Speaker José Oliva slammed pharmaceutical companies in his opening day speech, but a bill to place $100 caps on co-payments for insulin will not pass this year. In fact, it won’t even get a hearing.
  6. The Florida Supreme Court, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Judge Renatha Francis has not been a member of the Florida Bar for 10 years.
  7. State Rep. Adam Hattersley, D-Riverview, speaks before volunteers with the gun control advocacy group Moms Demand Action outside the Florida Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. [[LAWRENCE MOWER | Tampa Bay Times]]
    Like it has since the Parkland massacre, the gun debate is growing fierce in Tallahassee. But there are some significant changes this year.
  8. West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James talks with his Director of Communications Kathleen Walter while going over the state of the city address in his office at the City of West Palm Beach municipal building in West Palm Beach, Florida on Wednesday, January 15, 2020.  [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James leads a city about the same size as Buttigieg’s South Bend. Here’s what his day looks like. Is this presidential experience?
  9. The Florida Supreme Court, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    “Death is indeed different,” wrote the lone dissenting justice. “This Court has taken a giant step backward."
  10. State Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, presents legislation to create a new chapter of Florida law dedicated to parents' rights when dealing with government and other agencies, during a committee meeting Jan. 23, 2020. [The Florida Channel]
    Parents have been marginalized by bureaucracy, and need to be empowered in law, sponsor Rep. Erin Grall says.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement