When Armando Gort arrived in Florida as a child from Cuba, he had a dream. He wanted a farm, with plenty of animals. It was going to be a horse farm and he was going to make it come true.
Gort hardly spoke a word of English when he arrived in America, but dreams don’t have a language. He knew what he wanted and got it done with his Horsepower for Kids farm on Race Track Road in northwest Tampa.
“We were poor when I was growing up,’’ Gort said. “But I experienced a lot of things as a kid and learned to love horses. I cut grass to make enough money to buy a horse so I could give pony rides. With the love for horses came the love for kids. What kid doesn’t love horses?’’
Gort started Horsepower for Kids in Safety Harbor, ran out of room, relocated to Tampa and it took off. Now a lot of kids who have never been out to the country, let alone ride a horse or see exotic animals in a natural setting, get their chance.
The horses at his farm are the big draw, but there are exotic animals of all kinds, including the world’s smallest breed of monkeys, colorful peacocks, goats, sheep and wolves. Much of the experience is hands-on, and it is a popular site for birthday parties. Kids can enjoy hayrides, bounce houses, and other experiences that they usually don’t get the chance to see.
Underprivileged kids spend a lot of time at the farm and Gort has a special interest in letting them see a part of the world that doesn’t include strip malls and shopping centers.
“We have kids from hospices, kids whose parents are in jail, kids who get to see a whole new world,’’ Gort said. “We aren’t like some kind of Disney World, where everything is controlled. You come out here and experience it all yourself and make your own plan.’’
Gort depends on donations and volunteers for his nonprofit organization. He has plenty of help from local high school kids who feel perfectly comfortable getting down and dirty in the cages and the dirt. By the way, make sure to wear very casual clothing. You’ll be walking in the same mud and muck as the animals.
Gort recently was offered more than $1 million for his farm, but he turned it down.
“This place is like a home to a lot of kids,’’ Gort said. “These kids come from places like juvenile hall. Some used drugs. They come here and learn to be respectable and they learn to love through their relationships with the animals. I could never sell this place.’’