‘Operation Free Ride’

PINE ISLAND, Minn. – There were many events across our region last week honoring those who have served, or even given their lives for our freedom. Some in southern Minnesota are continuing to do so a week later in a unique way.

Garry Hoyme is a retired school teacher, and a veteran. For the third straight year, he took his granddaughters out for some free horseback riding.

“It just feels good to be part of this,” Hoyme said.

It is part of “Operation Free Ride.” RideAbility, which is south of Pine Island. They are teaming up with “Horses 4 Heroes“, which allows U.S. veterans and their families to enjoy a fun-filled day with horses.

“Events like this, grassroots kind of things,  brings more people and makes people get involved. They are aware that a lot of us have put a lot of time in, and some of us in very dangerous times,” Hoyme said.

Those at RideAbility knew this was an organization they wanted to be associated with.

“It’s a way to join an organization that really wants to honor the military families of the United States of America. All of our veterans, all of their families, all of the people who are deployed today. People who’ve been in the military at all,” said Jeanie Michelizzi with RideAbility.

The event had everything from “spirit painting,” where you can put your own design on horses, to wagon rides and trail horse riding. Volunteers run the whole show.

“There’s a large volunteer base here that really believes in the United States of America. We really believe in saying thank you to those people who give up so much of their lives to make this country safe. We thought this would be a great way to say thank you to them,” Michelizzi said.

Although, he has been attending the event since its beginning, Hoyme has every intention of returning again next year.

“It’s just a fun time to get together. Everybody’s so welcoming and fun,” Hoyme said.

The event also has options for those with special needs. The wagon for the rides is custom built for RideAbility and is wheelchair accessible. They also have horses that are trained to stand quietly for people who may take a little longer to get on.

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