Special needs day gives youth chance to bond

By Argen Duncan: PNT Senior Writer

Halley Manley said her reserved daughter with Asperger’s syndrome, attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactive disorder became outgoing and made physical and emotional improvements, all thanks to horseback riding.

“She has self-confidence now and is willing to try anything,” Manley said of her daughter, 9-year-old Emma Purcell.

Manley and Purcell took part in Wednesday’s Roosevelt County Fair Special Needs Day, which included rope tricks by County Commissioner Bill Cathey, a Special Olympics horseback riding exhibition and a pet show for people with disabilities. This year is the second the fair has held a Special Needs Day and an indoor exhibits competition among disabled people.

“More people with disabilities should come out so they can intermingle with people in the community,” said Pat Dodson, who leads the organization of the events.

Dodson said the riding exhibition aimed to show how disabled people can ride and compete in Special Olympics.

“It gives them something to do, and it gives them a sense of accomplishment because they’re able to compete,” she said.

Dodson’s 18-year-old son, Garrett, has a rare genetic disease that affects his motor skills, and he has gained strength and balance from his years of horseback riding, including participation in Special Olympics

“It’s fun,” Garrett said.

Cindy Vaugan, 48, has been part of Special Olympics since she was 8 and competes in a variety of equestrian events. She said she loves every part of it and has learned that horses are bigger and stronger than she is.

Emma, who competes in Special Olympics and takes lessons locally at Abrazos Adventures, also enjoys horseback riding.

“Everyone should learn how to do it,” she said.

Abrazos Adventures owner Wendy Toombs said she’s found little difference between normal and disabled children.

Toombs believes many problems in children come from unmanaged energy and technology allowing them to bypass learning to use their bodies. Once they learn to control their energy, she said, it helps with their disabilities.

“They learn how to focus; they learn how to apply themselves to something,” Toombs said.