04/12/09 — Rodeo helps others ride

View Archive

Rodeo helps others ride

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 12, 2009 2:00 AM

Full Size


Haley Martin, 13, competes in the Cowgirl Agility event during the Toughest Cowgirl in Wayne County Rodeo on Saturday at Stepping Stone therapeutic horse riding stables near Pikeville. The event was designed to raise money to buy a $3,000 adaptive saddle for children and young adults with chronic disabilities.

PIKEVILLE -- They might have been competing Saturday for bragging rights as Wayne County's Toughest Cowgirl, but in the end it was the handicapped children who ride at the Stepping Stone therapeutic horse riding stables who were the real winners.

The riders, ranging in age from 10 and up, took their mounts through their paces in events scattered across three corrals. A fourth area also was set up for events like goat roping, kicking a drum around a course and heaving a bale of hay.

The riders and spectators were there for more than just a rodeo, they were there to help raise funds for a therapeutic saddle.

"We are primarily a stable for people with disabilities," said owner Jana Foote. "We service public schools in Wayne County. We go to Cherry Hospital and we go to O'Berry Center. We are really embedded in the community.

"We are raising money for an adaptive saddle. It is a saddle that has different pieces of equipment on it so that small people with chronic disabilities who still enjoy riding can do it safer. It has a back built into it."

The saddle also has a quick-release belt and a two-way adjustable back so that it can be custom fit to meet the rider's special needs.

The saddle has been ordered through a company in Arizona and the orders normally take six months to fill, she said.

Ms. Foote hopes to send the remainder of the amount owed on the saddle on Monday.

"Our goal is to raise between $3,000 to $4,000 and we are doing that by what I call a scavenger-style rodeo where you ride to different places to complete your events," she said.

Riders competed in 14 events and were graded under a point system. There were five age categories 12-and-under, 13-to-17, 18-to-21, 21-to-28 and 29-and-up.

Ms. Foote said she was not surprised at the number of riders, 31, who competed. At least 10 of the cowgirls who signed up were riders with disabilities.

"We have been asking people before we did it to see what kind of response we would get," she said. "We are delighted with our response and our weather.

"I am real happy. It is the perfect number. It will get bigger and it is going to be an annual fundraiser for the non-profit part of the barn. At every turn everything has just worked out better than we could have hoped for."

Ms. Foote said she had calls from people in other counties about the event.

Some riders brought their own horses. Other horses were provided by the stables. And in some cases neighbors and friends loaned their animals so there would be enough mounts for everybody.

"We want to build it up to 50 (riders) in the future," Ms. Foote said. "That would be plenty."

It was the first time the nonprofit organization has sponsored a fundraiser on such a scale.

"We are always doing fundraisers to help pay for part-time people we hire, people with disabilities to work at barn," she said.

Along with proceeds from the entry fees, the fundraiser received a percentage of proceeds from a yard sale and concessions.

Ms. Foote has operated Stepping Stone therapeutic horse riding stables for 13 years. It has been located at 1194 Capps Bridge Road for the past eight years.

"I decided to ride today because it is a great joy to see people do fundraisers for disadvantaged children and it is just a great way to raise money so that they can have the saddle," said rider Mary E. Anderson of Goldsboro as she awaited her turn to compete.

Ms. Anderson, who has been riding for about three years, got hooked after she first rode in a Shriners parade.

She found out about the rodeo through a friend.

"She told me about it and I was just thrilled because I just love to ride," she said.

Ms. Anderson said she did "pretty good" in most of the events, except bobbing for apples because Pokie, the horse she was riding, "would not pick up the apples for me but I did and it was good."

"This is a wonderful cause, a wonderful cause," she said. "I used to work with handicapped children at O'Berry Center. It is just a great joy to do anything to help these kids to their advantage. One time I thought we were going to get rained out, but God blessed us and there are a lot of people. They are enjoying themselves and they know it is a wonderful cause."

Rider Kristie Garris didn't have any trouble bobbing for apples, she simply stuck her entire head in, she said.

Her horse Chief did well, too, she said.

Ms. Garris, who has been riding for a couple of years, said she enjoys trail rides.

"Riding is fun and helping out here," she said. "I ride out here a lot. I love being out here."

Rachelle Gordon, 20, of LaGrange and her friend, Brittany Jones of the Gurley Dairy Road area, were competing as well.

Ms. Gordon has been riding since she was 10 and has ridden with Ms. Foote for about nine years of those 10.

"We just wanted to come out to raise some money for the saddle," she said.

Haley Martin 13, who lives near the stables, started horseback riding when she was four.

Asked why she started riding, she said, "I got bored. It is fun."

Her favorite competition is barrel racing.

"It is a good event for the saddle," she said. "We really need it because some people can't ride."

Tyler Stevens, 10, of Kenly who has been riding since he was 5, couldn't compete in the event but came to watch.

Asked if he was picking up any hints from the female riders, he just paused and said, "hmmmm."

But he said he did think they were doing "pretty good."

For information about the stables, call Ms. Foote at 394-6269.