When the Specials Olympics canceled its equestrian event earlier this month, the High Horses Therapeutic Riding Program in Sharon retaliated by holding its own Special Olympics - like event, complete with awards, a potluck lunch, and a live national anthem performance.
About 15 horseback riders competed with their horses in three classes - the trail course (an obstacle challenge), the barrel race (a race around every barrel), and the equitation class (judged on the rider's position).
The participants were cheered by a large audience. As their names were called over the loud speaker to enter the arena or claim their awards, some of them jumped in enthusiasm.
It was a big day for these equestrians. Some of the riders have worked with the staff members of High Horses for years as they fight through daily obstacles.
This day they got to show off everything they've learned.
Here are their stories.
Jeffrey Mullenbrook, 57.
Jeffrey Mullenbrook sat up tall and proud as he steered his horse around the barrels during the barrel race.
“ALRIGHT!” Jeffrey yelled in excitement when he and his horse made it around every barrel.
Jeffrey has been coming to High Horses for at least nine years.
He drives for an hour with his caretaker Jim Brown to attend weekly lessons.The drive is a hike from where they live in Wells River, but it’s worth it for Jeffrey, said Jim.
Wednesday is “horse day," said Jim.
“It’s a special part of his week,” said Jim. “I notice a difference when we have a couple weeks off.”
Jeffrey ,57, has multiple sclerosis in his hands and he has an ear infection. His speech is also limited.
Jeffrey has good days and he has bad days, said Jim, and the High Horses staff and volunteers build lessons around how Jeffrey's feeling.
“They completely tailor it” said Jim.
Jessie Tenson, 22.
Jessie Tensen, 22, was proud of the first and second place ribbons she won in the trail and equitation classes.
Jessie, who lives in Stafford, attended the event with her mother, Diane.
Jessie is another regular horseback rider at High Horses where she's always learning new skills.
Diane said being around horses has made her daughter a more confident person.
“I think it empowers you,” said Diane.
Hannah DeLong, 24.
Hannah DeLong proudly wore her third place ribbon from the trail class.
Hannah, of Windsor, started riding at High Horses when she was about 8 years old. She's now 24.
Hannah has developmental disabilities. She doesn’t read or write, her parents said, but that hasn’t stopped her.
“I love to trot!” said Hannah.
At High Horses, Hannah is working with staff and volunteers to do multi-step tasks.
“The people who volunteer here are amazing,” said Hanah’s mom, Becca.
“They really spend time with the kids they volunteer with."
Klarey Black, 26, started riding when she was about 13 years ago. She became interested in horses after watching the television series, "Pony Pals" - now, she's hooked.
"I I love working on my skills,” said Klarey.
Klarey, from Enfield, can independently ride all the gaits of a horse, including walk, trot, and canter. She even jumps, despite the neurological disorder called Spurge-Weber syndrome.
Klarey learned it all at High Horses and she's even got her family involved.
Klarey's cousins came to watch her compete at the event and her mother, Gabbie, is a High Horses board member.