By Devan Strebing firstname.lastname@example.org
Hendricks County Flyer
---- — DANVILLE — “It’s remarkable seeing what the riders are able to accomplish in this competition,” said Deb Nelis, volunteer coordinator of Special Olympics Indiana.
The equestrian competition of Special Olympics Indiana was held at the Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds in Danville on Friday evening and into Saturday.
More than 70 riders participated in Friday’s events, and all had fans turn out to watch and cheer them on.
The competition has been going on for about ten years now, with quite a few of those years at the Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds complex.
Duchess Adjei, manager of marketing and public relations at the Indiana Special Olympics, said there were many more athletes competing this year than last.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “These are the first events to show the EKS games. It’s a beautiful location. It really is something to see the athletes enjoying it. It’s pretty unique, and the riders can do it very successfully.”
There is no charge for the athletes to compete.
The riders have to practice at least eight weeks prior to the competition, but many start before then at horse therapy programs throughout the state, or with their own horses.
The horse therapy programs help and teach the athletes with different forms of disabilities such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism, or any other emotional, medical, or altered learning disability.
Each horse therapy program has coaches that have to keep a medical clearance for their riders. Special Olympics Indiana has protocols in how to get the riders safely to a hospital if something should happen.
Riders sign up for the equestrian competition through their county, or the horse therapy programs come to Special Olympics Indiana for the riders to sign them up to show their skills. Many are return riders.
Pam Eakin, director of the program, said classes are categorized by an A, B or C category, based on the rider’s skills.
The As are categorized into the independent class where riders are able to do a walk, trot, and canter with their horse. The B category is for riders who can walk and trot, and the C category is for the riders who can walk their horse.
“This presents a more fair competition based on their riding skills,” Eakin said. “Riders can be supported or not supported, have side-walkers, someone leading the horse, someone clipped onto the horse ... there are a number of different ways athletes can ride.”
Deb Nelis added, “Being able to have two people on either side of them helps them develop muscular ability. There will be someone that is familiar with the horse to guide them. Usually the people with these programs have come with the horses to help the horses get ready, and this helps calm the horse.”
Nelis says this is her favorite event to participate in, and her fifth year volunteering for it.
“This is very different from other events, a different group of athletes,” she said. “You can see the joy in their faces when they ride.”
The equestrian competition also takes a lot of resources and effort from Special Olympics, with many volunteers.
“We’ve been working on this event for a couple of months,” Eakin said. “We have different kinds of competitions, such as naming the parts of a horse, taking care of the horse, driving carts, barrel competitions, and team relays.”
One rider has even been to the national competition, and she’s trying to qualify again this year by receiving gold in her division.
There are three judges for the equestrian competition, and there were more than 100 riders over the two days that athletes competed.
“Next weekend the EKS games continue with flag football, distance run and walk, volleyball, golf, softball, and other games,” Eakin said.
In honor of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who passed away in August 2009, the EKS Games is one event that is intended to ensure her legacy and vision.
Special Olympics Indiana is a non-profit organization that provides year-round sports to more than 11,000 athletes across the state. The organization receives no federal- or state-appropriated funds, is not a United Way agency, and relies entirely on corporate, civic and individual donations. For more information about Special Olympics Indiana, call 328-2000 or visit the website at www.soindiana.org.