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Sometimes downsizing is the best way to grow, and that’s exactly what’s going on with The Luci Center in Shelby County.
Luci Center, a hippotherapy therapeutic riding center for children and adults with disabilities, has sold its property on Hebron Road and was planning to close Tuesday on a new location across the street.
This 15-acre site will be built to suit the center’s unique needs.
But a new location isn’t necessarily the center’s biggest change this year. Founder and Executive Director Paula Nieto stepped down last month to make way for Becky Yost to take over as executive director.
“I’ve been hammering away at this job for a very long time,” Nieto said, “and it’s basically seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. And I’m just worn out.”
Nieto, who started The Luci Center in Colorado and in 1998 moved to Shelby County, said family changes and the need to see the center continue to grow are what caused her to step away.
“We’re all challenged with making a difference with our lives, and mine just so happened to be establishing this center, growing it and working with a wonderful set of people,” she said.
Nieto said Yost, who started at the center as volunteer, was the perfect choice to take over.
“She really impressed me with her work and commitment. She has an MBA, which will help the center grow, and she has energy,” she said, laughing. “She’s very committed and will focus the direction of the center toward the future, which is very, very bright.”
Yost said she didn’t start in 2012 with the idea of one day leading the Luci Center’s efforts.
“I started as a volunteer with riding sessions and trained to be a leader,” she said. “One day Paula and I were having a conversation, and I told her I really enjoyed my job, but I was looking for something with more of a mission of helping children and adults.
“And she said, ‘Well, would you be interested in running a non-profit?’
“I’m just really thrilled to get the opportunity to do something like this. I’m just a country-girl at heart that loves horses and wants to help.”
Yost, who took over in Jan. 28 and worked in conjunction with Nieto until she stepped down on March 11, is overseeing the transition to the new location.
While the center is being planned and built, board member Annie Long’s Moonshadow Friesian Farm on Moody Pike is being used to house the horses.
“We moved all twelve horses and five miniatures [which includes three horses and two Sicilian donkeys] out here, and they’re doing great,” Yost said. “We’re closing on the new property today [Tuesday], but the first thing is we have to get the field pastures underway. The area had been used for corn and soybean farming, so we need to get it ready for the horses to be in there, that’s what’s going to take the most time.”
Yost said the group hopes to be in the new facility by November.
“It should be built by then, but it will depend on the pastures. We can’t move until they’re ready,” she said.
The reason for the move, both Nieto and Yost said, was to help the center get a farm better suited for the center’s needs and because the former farm was simply too big.
The entire parcel was 50 acres, with about 26.5 owned by the Luci Center and the rest by Nieto.
“That was a good location, it served our needs, and we never had a problem managing it, but now we’ll be able to build a location to fit a therapeutic riding center,” Yost said. “This site will have our office, indoor and outdoor riding rings, a therapy room and possibly an area for dry lessons.”
Those are life-lessons for riders that may not quite be ready for riding.
“They [persons being treated] will learn to groom horses until they’re comfortable around them. They’ll learn to tie knots, open doors, work on stretching and reaching and other life skills,” she said.
Both Yost and Nieto said they were excited about what’s in store for the future of The Luci Center.
“I think the move has been a very positive decision we made,” Yost said. “Now we’ll continue to be able to grow and serve our riders, and that’s the most important thing.”
And Nieto said she can’t wait to watch it grow.
“I’ll be involved as much as Becky wants me to be,” she said. “I’m just so very fortunate to have a legacy that’s going to continue well past me.”