Parelli student Kathy Peterson sent us this inspiring blog. Take it away, Kathy!
As I knelt down to meet the smiling face beaming at the big paint mare standing behind me, I could feel Kiowa softly step forward and lower her head. The boy was very disabled, but determined to pet her soft muzzle. As he reached for her, I smiled and looked on with pride as he happily held her nostrils in his hands, all the while another group of children painted her body and hind legs from both sides, and my sweet girl never faltered. He glowed from his wheelchair while he interacted with her and signed “thank you” and “love” to her afterwards. As his mom was explaining to him that it was time to be done, he began to cry and sign “ride.” My eyes began to well up with tears. I would have loved to spend the next hour with just that boy and let him ride her…..he made my day.
This was just one of many incredible moments I had the privilege of being a part of at the 2012 Special Kids’ Rodeo, presented by the Reno Rodeo Foundation, on Sunday, June 17th. The Special Kids’ Rodeo is one of the most popular events at the Reno Rodeo and had a record 135 entries this year. Open to children and young adults under the age of 18 with physical and mental “exceptionalities,” this annual event is a fun way for children to experience the cowboy way of life first hand. Participants enjoy riding a “mechanical” bull or “bucking” horse (made from straw bales and operated by volunteers), roping steer dummies, meeting therapy pets including several dogs and a rabbit named Morpheus, riding a horse (courtesy of the Reno Rodeo Flag Team), and, for the second time, painting my horse Kiowa! During the Special Kids’ Rodeo “performance,” the participants and their families are assisted (as needed) by volunteers of the Reno Rodeo Association. Volunteers included members of local law enforcement and fire departments, EMTs, rodeo queens, and many others.
Kiowa is a 20-year-old BLM mustang and a classic Left-Brain Introvert. She has owned me for 10 years and she led me to Parelli 7 years ago. We have officially graduated Level 1 and were playing well into level 3 when a coffin bone injury forced me to make the difficult decision to retire her as my levels horse. As a regular volunteer with Horses for the Spirit for several years, Kiowa has been painted numerous times and it is always a favorite activity for program participants. We have also volunteered our time having Kiowa painted at the Western States Wild Horse and Burro Expo in Reno as part of their Kids’ Day activities for the last two years. Her heart is so big, and she shares it so willingly that it is easy to forget how much fear she has had to conquer to allow over 100 children and their families to paint her during the 3-hour event. In spite of the extreme squeezes and friendly games, she maintained her composure – a testament to her Parelli foundation.
A highlight for me was a quiet moment for one little boy who just wanted to pet Kiowa, not paint her, who gently kissed her neck and whispered “I love you, horsey” to her. And then there was Maddy, a bubbly 7-year-old girl who spent the entire event at our table, helping my friends keep things running smoothly. As we were getting ready to leave at the end of the day, Maddy came up to me and said, “I love your horse.” I smiled and replied, “Me too.”
There are so many other stories I could share. From the young man who only wanted to hold Kiowa’s face for a while and share a secret meant just for her to know, to the beautiful little girl with Down’s Syndrome whose squeals of delight made everyone within earshot smile when she reached out to pet my sweet mare and Kiowa responded by gently licking her hand. Every child, every family was a story and a memory I will cherish.
At the end of the day, as the last children took their turns painting the few places left untouched, a volunteer with the Reno Rodeo Foundation approached me and said, “I’ve been watching your horse all day and I have to ask – is she drugged?” I smiled and replied, “No, this is just who she is.” The woman looked at Kiowa and said, “Wow! That is one incredible horse.” I smiled as I gazed at my beautiful friend and choked back the tears. There are no words that can describe the pride and love I feel for this horse, my equine soul mate, so I said the only thing I could manage in that moment:
“Yes. Yes she is.”