AjPHA National Director volunteers at the Special Olympics in Texas
July 11, 2014
There are those of us who, it seems, have it made with beautiful horses, expensive outfits, Harris saddles and the perfect seat.
Then there are those who really have limits, for whom riding is not just a hobby or even a passion, but an escape from those limits. On the ground, those with special needs can feel inferior, useless or confused. A horse is a ladder with which to scale the walls of disabilities and show their true personalities: cheerful, talented, funny and friendly.
I got to experience the miracles horses work first-hand at the Special Olympics in Bryan, Texas, on May 17 and 18. My mom, Kelly Lazo, and I worked as volunteers along with Kasey Poole and Vicky Herzog-Poole. They worked in the awards division, dispensing medals and ribbons to the top riders of the classes. My mom and I worked the gate.
Our job was to check in all the riders ahead of time, making calls for those who weren't in the warm-up pen and enforcing the safety rules for helmets, side walkers and no cantering, for example. I was there as a representative of APHA, so I had an additional assignment to converse with and take pictures of everyone I could find who owned or rode a Paint.
Meeting people riding Paint Horses was by far my favorite part. I made quite a few friends by handing out APHA and AjPHA posters, brochures and programs. The Special Olympics was very similar to any other horse show, except for one thing. Instead of focusing on the objective of winning, everyone at the Special Olympics was just there to ride—not to show, not to win, but simply to ride. Winning a medal was a dream of many competitors, but if they didn't take the gold, silver, or bronze, that was okay, too. An element that mars most typical shows—stress—was absent!
The remarkable character of the exhibitors amazed me. Despite their physical and mental boundaries, they greeted me enthusiastically and smiled, spoke, laughed and rode pleasantly. I even got to sing with one spirited girl! It was a great feeling to know that in congratulating one person or talking to one child, you made not just their day, but the day of their close friends and family. Knowing that someone cared enough to speak and socialize with their child, friend or charge is a major lift to their spirits.
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I immensely enjoyed the 2014 Special Olympics, and I feel confident that every volunteer, judge, trainer, exercise rider, groom and exhibitor did as well. Tickets are available online to volunteer at the 2015 Special Olympics, and there are also a multitude of other shows that need volunteers. If you have a free weekend and want to contribute to the community, I strongly recommend assisting at a special needs show. It brings a whole new light to helping yourself as you help others, and on just what being limitless means.