Every rodeo begins with the National Anthem and Old Glory waving her famous red, white and blue. The Special Needs Rodeo was no different. Larry Turner proudly rode around the arena on horseback, presenting the Stars and Stripes, while David Olsen honorably sang the National Anthem.
After the brief opening, Turner and Olsen joined over 20 other special needs cowboys and cowgirls in the arena to experience the thrill of a rodeo. They came with all different abilities but with the same chance to participate.
A mechanical bull donated by Buck Wild Mechanical Bulls let the adults and kids go on a wild or mild ride. While riding the imitation beast seemed intimidating for many to try initially, participants kept lining up again and again.
The 2014 wranglers helped participants rope metal shaped animals in the arena. They patiently waited as ropes were twisted and turned. Nearby the fair queens led miniature horses and stick horses around barrels. Their inner beauty shined as bright as their striking smiles while they gave everyone the chance to ride.
Christian Phillips did an exhibition ride around the arena with precision and grace. His horsemanship in riding through the arena was not dimmed by his lack of sight. While Christian galloped around the arena unhindered by any impairment, a huge group of families cheered readily.
After Phillips finished his ride on his personal horse, another full size horse took excited, nervous, happy, and scared riders around the arena. A back rider from Freedom Riders in Ogden came to help with rides. Freedom Riders is an organization that provides horseback rides weekly throughout the summer to children with physical disabilities. The equestrian program helps physically disabled children improve balance, coordination, endurance and ambulatory skills.
Some held on tight while others opted to wave with both hands at the cheering crowd. The spectators cheered for each participant that rode past. Everyone celebrated in the moment.
That evening two trucks took some of the participants around the arena at the main rodeo. These proud rodeo contestants held their heads high and had huge smiles as they gave their best queen’s wave. Many of them practiced the classic wave before they entered the arena. The supportive crowd cheered emphatically for the champions.
Collett Watkins decided to create the special rodeo after watching her daughter Shantel participate in a similar event the last two years: first as Miss Oakley first attendant and then as queen. Mother and daughter have both participated in countless rodeos and Collett decided they should bring this opportunity to Morgan.
Watkins expected that the participants would have a great time. She has sat in the stands and watched enough to know that they would be happy to try everything out. What she didn’t know was how appreciative all the parents would be. She said from the different viewpoint from in the arena, she could see the tears of happiness and the look of pride as parents cheered on their cowboy or cowgirl.
“We want to make sure the whole community is able to participate in the biggest little fair in Utah,” fairboard member Kris-E Snyder stated. These special kids and adults are often cheering from the stands. This event allowed them to be the stars.
Collett Watkins wanted to thank all of the volunteers. “We might have set it in motion, but we couldn’t have done it without all of the volunteers.”
The wranglers and fair queen royalty all showed their class as they worked diligently, patiently and lovingly to make sure each person had a chance to try out rodeo skills and to have a great time. Many of their parents stayed to help even though they hadn’t specifically been asked to. Watkins said this help was critical to the success of the event. They hadn’t anticipated all of the help that would be required to pull off the special rodeo but there wasn’t a moment they were lacking help as everyone pulled together and filled in spots where there was a need.