Each day presents challenges for children with special needs, but some special horses and volunteers were there to make them smile.
The Special Needs Kids Rodeo, part of the SandHills Stock Show and Rodeo, was held Saturday at the Ector County Coliseum. More than 100 kids were led in laps around the coliseum on gentle ranch horses. Parents and children alike were grateful for the opportunity.
Nine-year-old Brenden Stienhilber has cerebral palsy and used a wheelchair to be rolled up a large ramp that made it easier for volunteers and parents to get their kiddos on the back of the horses. His grandfather Tommy Ervin said he spends a lot of time with his grandson and regularly takes him places and allows him to participate in events such as horseback riding and four-wheeling.
Although providing horses for special needs children to ride may look like fun and games, Speech Pathologist Alice Cunningham said it provides invaluable therapy for many different needs areas.
“When they spread their legs over the horses, it loosens up their muscles and increases balance,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham is a speech therapist at Synergy Physical Therapy of Odessa and on the SandHills Rodeo board representing the special needs rodeo committee. Synergy had several personnel on hand to assist the children getting on and off the horses. Cunningham and Ervin both said that better balance and upper body control lead to better speech, both of which are results of riding horses.
Other activities for the children included entertainment by clowns, musicians and a rocking barrel bull. Families were free to partake in the activities at their leisure or just sit and enjoy the music and show.
“He had a super, fantastic time,” Ervin said about Stienhilber. “You could even say he had a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious time.”