The smile says it all: Rodeo rounds up special needs individuals, high school rodeo contestants |

The smile says it all: Rodeo rounds up special needs individuals, high school rodeo contestants

Smiles abounded as South Dakota high school rodeo contestants traded their competitive streaks for a more charitable spirit, and some special people benefitted.

The Black Hills Roundup Committee members teamed up with SunCatcher Therapeutic Riding academy to host a Special Needs Rodeo June 18 in Belle Fourche, South Dakota, during the Black Hills Roundup and South Dakota State High School Rodeo. The event was made possible in part by the volunteer efforts of the high school rodeo contestants.

This is the first time SunCatcher has helped with this event, said volunteer Rhonda Fuhrer.

SunCatcher TRA Board Member Deb Alickson said, “Everyone had an awesome time from riding the SunCatcher horses to the mighty bucking barrel, or roping steer heads to tying goats.”

Eighty-four special needs individuals showed up to cowboy for the day and approximately 150 SDHSRA participants showed them how to rope a dummy, ride horses and stay aboard a bucking barrel, powered by high school students. There were also goats and sheep to pet.

Many folks rallied to pull this event together, Alickson said.

“The gals from Chutes for Charity supplied drinks along with Mark Nore, who supplied ice cream from his ice cream truck,” she said. “Many of high school contestants were already done competing for the week, but chose to stay and make the special needs athletes’ rodeo a success.”

SunCatcher TRA provided horses for the event. It is a non-profit organization that is dependent upon donations, grants, and some scholarships.

“SunCatcher provided seven calm horses who are used to carrying special people,” Alickson said. “It gave them the opportunity to compete in a rodeo, or just go for a ride, or pet the horse if they chose not to ride.”

Regular SunCatcher Riders were able to independently participate in the barrel race aboard familiar horses. Alickson’s son Garet straddled his favorite horse Major during the event to take a spin through the cloverleaf pattern.

Each individual left with the ultimate cowboy prize: a belt buckle. Taylor Bothwell was one of several contestants who gave their own trophy buckle.

“Taylor asked her participant which buckle she would like and she said the one Taylor had on. She took it off and gave it to her,” said Lynn McKay, of Wall, mother to SDHSRA Finals Contestant Jayton, 15. “Rodeo kids are family.”

“I haven’t been around special needs kids much, but James, the little guy with us, had cerebral palsy, and the smile on his face was overwhelming,” Jayton said. “It was also great to see how many contestants showed up to help.”

“Helping with this rodeo, I was taken aback to see just how much joy they got from spending a couple of hours doing just a few things that so many of us take for granted,” said Cassity Goetz, 18, of New Underwood. “Helping with this was truly an amazing experience. I don’t think I will ever forget the smile on Charlene’s face as she caught the roping dummy for the first time or when she got over her fear of the bucking barrel and decided she wanted to go back for more. It is so rewarding to know that I was able to help her with this experience.”

Seth Rice, 18, of Spearfish, extended a special gesture to one of the special needs rodeo attendees and a classmate Tucker. He brought along a trophy buckle he had earned rodeoing. He said, “We all have a passion for rodeo so to help out and see smiles on everyone’s faces made it an awesome event.”

Lynn appreciates the SDHSRA Finals Competitors who stepped up to make the day for those with special needs. She said that sometimes many of the teens who volunteered are overlooked.

“Some of those kids didn’t even make the short go and stuck around just to help,” Lynn said. “These kids are great individuals. They aren’t the ones that are in every picture, but they are the kids that go to every practice, do everything they can to help someone else, and no one notices them because they are just there. Sometimes a ‘hey, we see you and we know you are there’ does go a long way too.”

SunCatchers TRA will be at the Tucker Day Rodeo in Hill City Aug. 14.

“No one knows more about how much this event means to the special needs individuals to be accepted and included in this great event more than their families,” Alickson said. “The smiles on everyone’s faces said it all.”

SDHSRA State Finals Competitor Tj Schmidt, 17, of Belle Fourche, agreed and loved sharing the cowboy way.

“It’s pretty amazing to see the smiles on their faces and just see how happy it makes them to live our lifestyle,” he said.

To see photos from the event, visit the Black Hills Round-Up or Black Hills Round-Up Special Needs Rodeo Facebook pages.

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