06/13/07 — Local Special Olympians get chance to ride

View Archive

Local Special Olympians get chance to ride

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on June 13, 2007 1:45 PM

If you want to see Robbie Presson smile, all you have to do is let him ride his horse, Cow Poke Rambler, as fast as he can.

Robbie will be among about 30 athletes expected to participate in the third annual Equestrian Invitational Saturday at Stepping Stones Therapeutic Stables.

His riding coach, Jana Foote, said he has been riding eight years now and has ridden in the Special Olympics equestrian event about four times.

Ms. Foote said the athletes have a wide range of abilities and disabilities.

Robbie is one of the riders who is allowed to go into the corral to get his own mount -- a far cry from a few years ago, when his family wasn't sure if he would be around. He still has hurdles to overcome, his coach said.

"He used to talk, but he regressed," Ms. Foote said. "He got really sick, almost died. Before his illness, he had been using the computer and saying, 'Hi.'"

Doctors found out that Robbie was allergic to mold -- and horses. He has to take a shot whenever he wants to ride Cow Poke.

"He doesn't mind," Ms. Foote said.

Some of Robbie's motor skills are returning, and he can swim again.

But he really shines when he's on the back of gentle giant Cow Poke.

"He never lost his ability to ride," Ms. Foote said.

And the riders aren't the only ones who benefit from the Special Olympians training sessions.

"I don't like regular horse shows," Ms. Foote said. "They're so boring, real quiet. The special athletes get all excited. They don't care what color the ribbon is."

Regina Clark has been working with Robbie for more than 11 years. He is 15 now. Robbie was diagnosed with autism when he was 4.

"He took right to riding," she said. "Jana had all kinds of animals here. He'd ride and not pay them any mind. But how, he will go out there and help feed them."

Another athlete, Jamie Taylor, has been riding a year and also has been working at the stables. She will ride Jade Saturday.

Heather Pardue has Downs Syndrome. She is 31 and doesn't say much. Instead, she takes it all in. She will be riding Saturday, too.

Heather has been riding four years. She brings her own gear and puts it on Gator, an appaloosa, all by herself -- with a little assistance to be sure everything is tight enough. Gator is a nickname. His real name is Valiant Heart, and his owner, Elizabethe Weeks, said he alternates between the therapeutic ring and the rodeo.

The riding starts at 9 a.m. Saturday and continues until about 2 p.m. An invitational qualifies each athlete to enter the state event in Raleigh.

Robbie and Jamie are among 10 equestrians going to Raleigh in July. If the state allowed more, Ms. Foote said she would send them, too.

"We have the largest group, and North Carolina has the biggest Special Olympics equestrian program in the U.S."

It's heartwarming, Regina added.

"You'll see little girls get onto the horse from wheelchairs and "ride like they have no disability at all."