By Tonya Fennell and Casey Peacock: Freedom Newspapers
With poise and confidence, Cindy Vaughan slowly led her horse into the arena at the Curry County Fairgrounds.
Her light brown ringlets peeking out from a patriotic-themed helmet, the 45-year-old Clovis resident waited patiently to compete in the horsemanship at halter category.
“I practice a lot,” she said, “and I like it (competing) because I do good,” said Vaughan, one of more than 20 athletes competing Friday morning in the Special Olympics Equestrian Games at the Mounted Patrol Arena. She said she wasn’t nervous to compete because she has been riding for years.
The two-day event, which concludes today, gives individuals with mental and physical disabilities the opportunity to display their horsemanship skills in several events — including barrel racing and showmanship.
Special Olympians who compete in the equestrian events learn to ride, develop sports skills and gain the self-confidence to direct and control a horse, according to the Web site www.specialolympics.org.
During the event, Vaughan was required to walk beside her horse while guiding the animal through a series of starts and stops. The judges, placed throughout the arena, closely eyed the athlete’s control of the animal.
Vaughan said she hoped her performance would win her a belt buckle. “I want to put it in my room,” she said.
Vaughan’s mother, Bonnie Light, watched from the sidelines, offering encouragement and directions to her daughter and the other competitors. Light also provided horses for the equestrian event and serves as a coach. “I’ve been involved in this for about 40 years,” Light said.
Although Vaughan was diagnosed with mental retardation at birth, Light said her daughter rides horses independently and enjoys ceramics, bowling and her job at McDonald’s.
Vaughan said she considers herself to be a normal woman with normal interests.
“I’m a proud aunt,” she said, “and I have a boyfriend.”
Light is the coach for Garrett Dodson of Portales. Born with Ataxia Telangiectasia, a genetic disorder that causes loss of motor skills, the 15-year-old competed in the Stock Seat Equitation portion of the Special Olympics Equestrian Games.
“We love it. It gives him a personal thing to be involved in,” said Pat Dodson, Garrett’s mother.
When her son was younger, he was active in the Little Wranglers and the family had horses, Dodson said. He also rides when attending camp in Missouri, she said.
According to his mother, he will be participating in several events during today’s show.
Garrett said he enjoyed his first equestrian Olympics.
“It was good. I didn’t know I was gonna get second place,” he said.
Light said that practices began eight weeks ago, right when the rains started. The athletes were only able to get about four practices in before the competition, she said.
“I think we’ve done pretty good. The most important thing is seeing the smiles on their faces,” Light said.