Community is a term that’s vaguely tossed around in defining a group of people — whether the group shares location, interests, or values.
Of course, we have our equestrian communities, a group of like-minded horse enthusiasts, eventers, owners, vets, and so many others. Many of us share the value of quality horsemanship, the love of the horse, and enjoy spending our time at the farm. However, our community covers so much geography, and often changes as we migrate north or south depending on the season, so feeling like we have a locational community can be a challenge.
Despite this we do participate in, and show up for, place-based communities. Betsy Ball, a Mississippi native but recent Florida resident, noticed the temporary role many equestrians have in communities such as those in central Florida. While there are many positive and lasting social and economic effects that temporary residents can have on a location, Betsy and some of her friends noticed an opportunity for further community engagement and started Horsemen for Central Florida.
“We as equestrians benefit so much from the services of Central Florida — venues, emergency services, other businesses… Horsemen for Central Florida is an opportunity to give back in recognition for all the area does for us,” Betsy says.
Horsemen for Central Florida is a recent 501(c)(3) working to partner with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to promote literacy in central Florida. The idea for Horsemen for Central Florida was started when Betsy moved to the area in 2022, and began looking for a public school for her niece. Throughout the process, she noticed many schools had students reading behind their grade level.
“When you start behind, it’s hard to catch up,” Betsy notes. “With the Imagination Library, Horsemen for Central Florida will provide kids under five years old with a free book every month. Anyone can sign up, so it’s a great way to get books into students’ hands early on.”
According to the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Abilities (PIAAC) and the Florida Literacy Coalition, in Florida, literacy and numeracy skills rank below the national average, with about 1 in 4 adults at or below Level 1 of literacy and 35% of adults are at or below Level 1 of numeracy.
“I’m a believer that you need to put back into your community what you take out — and more! I wanted to know, ‘how can I help? How can I make a difference?’” Betsy says.
Diving into the creation of a 501(c)(3) and mobilizing community efforts are not single person jobs. Betsy is thrilled that Horsemen of Central Florida will be of service to the community, but recognizes that that service wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of board members Megan Mondschein, Kylie Lyman, Emily Holmes, and Jessica Shull, in addition to herself.
While these board members are working hard to reach as many families and kids as possible, the efforts won’t be possible without our broader equestrian community. Fundraising efforts are currently active to partner with the Imagination Library, first beginning in Levy County, Florida, before expanding through Central Florida. Once funds have been raised to establish the partnership, Horsemen of Central Florida will be able to mobilize efforts of getting books to kids.