Disabled riders find comfort in the saddle

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - Sam Wolfe was getting anxious about his horse, making him shift from one foot to the other in a stall at John Justin Arena.

“I’m sort of familiar with Trevor, but I’m a little nervous, because I wanted to ride Dunny,” said Wolfe, 26, who’s riding this week in the Chisholm Challenge, a competition for equestrians with disabilities.

At the end of Wolfe’s go-round in the English equitation competition this week, the Argyle man rode Trevor out of the arena holding a first-place blue ribbon and a big, custom-made Gist Silversmiths belt buckle.

The pride he felt was obvious.

But as one of more than 160 riders in the American Quarter Horse Association-sanctioned competition, Wolfe didn’t have a lot of time to bask in the glory. He had to start preparing for the showmanship contest and, his favorite, trail riding during the final day of what’s become known as the unofficial kickoff for the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.

“I like trail riding,” said Wolfe, who competes for the Born 2 Be Therapeutic Equestrian Center. “It’s basically an obstacle course, and I like obstacle courses. You have to walk over bridges, open and close a gate. They do a lot of cool things.”

Competitive riding is an important part of Wolfe’s family, said his little brother, Michael, 22.

“It forces us to clean up the house to make room for all the medals Sam brings home,” Michael told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (http://bit.ly/1d6NX6E). “Chisholm Challenge is a big part of the community our family is part of, the autism community. You develop a connection with someone and an event like this is a way to come together and celebrate the growth that’s brought on by equitation.”

Training for competitive riding has brought the world to Kolton Williams, a 13-year-old White Settlement resident whose shyness once kept him from talking to anyone outside the family.

“Used to, he wouldn’t speak to anyone,” said Kristi Williams, his mom. “Now, we have to make him focus on riding practice, because he spends so much time talking to the therapists and volunteers.”

Therapeutic riding is rewarding even without the competition, said Williams, who said her son has Down syndrome.

“It strengthens his upper body, gives him a sense of pride, lots of friends and a love for his horse,” Williams said. “He looks forward every week to seeing his horse.”

In its 11th year, the Chisholm Challenge has become the largest AQHA Equestrians with Disabilities competition in the world, said Dwayne Wheeler, the event’s president. This year it has drawn competitors from 12 therapeutic horseback riding centers from North Texas and, in the case of Texas Tech, from Lubbock.

Wheeler said he’s been involved in therapeutic riding a little over 15 years, and finds wonder in watching people “who aren’t able to compete on the baseball diamond or the football field” do well in a venue that’s unattainable by many others.

“There are a lot of kids out there who never get to ride a horse,” Wheeler said. “And of those who do get to ride horses, most never get to ride competitively in the most prestigious horse show in the world, the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.”

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