Roundup grounds host Special Needs Rodeo |

Roundup grounds host Special Needs Rodeo

Maria Tussing
Digital and Sections Editor

Most kids who attend the South Dakota State High School Finals Rodeo have had good days and bad days in the arena. They’ve missed their horses out, they’ve knocked barrels, waved loops off their calves and their goats have gotten up. They’ve won buckles and been dumped in the mud.

But for many kids—and some adults—just being in the arena makes it a good day.

The 100th anniversary of the Black Hills Roundup marked the fourth annual Special Rodeo, put on in conjunction with the South Dakota State High School Rodeo Finals at the Roundup grounds in Belle Fourche in mid-June.

The rodeo, which features events adapted for contestants of all ages with special mental or physical needs started when Justin Tupper, a member of the Roundup committee, attended a similar event at the National High School Finals and brought the idea back, said coordinator Rhonda Fuhrer from Belle Fourche.

“The first couple years I had to ‘sell’ the idea to find sponsors and contestants. I’ve been getting entries weekly since January this year. People look forward to it and are familiar with it,” she said.

“It’s so fun to be involved because it’s easy to get volunteers and donations. It’s such a feel-good event that everyone wants to help with it and be involved.”

Suncatcher Therapeutic Riding Academy near Rapid City brings the horses and equipment so the contestants can ride.

The high school students who are attending the finals volunteer their time to help with the rodeo, and for many it’s a highlight of the weekend, regardless of their own luck in the arena.

“Kids who don’t make the short go could leave Friday,” Fuhrer said, “but they choose to stay to participate in that event. We have more high school volunteers than contestants, so we can pair two high school volunteers with each contestant.”

The prizes are donated—t-shirts by the Black Hills Roundup committee, belt buckles, trophies and plaques by companies and individuals who have some to spare, or who just want to share.

The contestants get to pick the prize they want, and one year a contestant told his high school assistant he liked her belt buckle best. She took it off and gave it to him.

Fuhrer has a 19-year-old daughter, Morgan, with cerebral palsy, and Rhonda’s husband is on the Roundup committee, so this event was a natural fit for her. Morgan gets to ride at home, so the event isn’t the treat for her that it is for other contestants, who come from as far away as Pierre for the event.

But it’s close to Rhonda’s heart. “Sorry, I didn’t think I’d get emotional. Just the smiles… The high school students take it for granted, this is something they get to do every day. You have to be there to appreciate it.”

The public is welcome to attend the rodeo, which is held each year in conjunction with the South Dakota State High School Finals Rodeo, usually the second week in June.

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