“I’m gonna hold that banner as long as I want,” Darby, 11, said Monday at her final practice before the show.
She is part of a group of Cobb athletes who are getting ready to take their horses to the Special Olympics, which run Friday through Sunday in Perry. Four of them have been training at GB’s Stables in Smyrna.
“They’ve all worked very hard,” said Carrie Harrison, who has been working with Special Olympics participants for 17 years and coaches the group. “We’ve got certain kids who went from being afraid of horses to being able to ride independently.”
The four will compete in three classes of competition at the state Special Olympics horse event: showmanship, where they show off their horses to judges; equitation, where they ride the horse and show they can move the animal; and trail, where they navigate a pattern that has been laid out.
For parents of children with disabilities, the Special Olympics provide a chance to cheer on their kids that they might not otherwise get. But they say that’s nothing compared to the joy the children feel.
“It just changes him when he gets there,” said Angie Monday, whose 12-year-old son, Presley, will ride Cody in Perry. “He gets to win something and to hear people cheer.”
Like Darby, Presley has autism. Darby’s mother, Manya Parker, said practicing for the games is also beneficial in helping with body control.
“Most of these kids don’t know their hands are connected to their arms and their arms are connected to their shoulders,” Parker said. “This has made that connection.”
Kenneth Randolph, who will carry the Cobb banner with Darby, and Danielle Crosby will also represent GB’s Stables. They are among around 300 children from across the state competing in the horse show.
Harrison also praises Joann McBride, who allows the Special Olympians to use GB’s Stables, where she is barn manager, free of charge.
“I’m taking a chunk of her time for teaching lessons, and I cannot tell her how much I appreciate that,” Harrison said.
McBride said she wanted to help after working with kids as a teacher for 20 years.
“It was a great cause and I wanted to do it for the kids,” she said. “I have really good horses, and I wanted them to do it too.”
Parker said she wishes more stables would volunteer to allow Special Olympians to practice at their facilities. There is a waiting list for kids who want to participate in the horse show, and they can only go two years in a row before sitting out for two years.
Darby, who will ride Archie, will compete in her fourth horse show, and has also participated in eight Special Olympics gymnastics competitions.
“There is no feeling greater than watching a child who has autism sit up on the horse and be able to steer it and tell it where to go and not be afraid,” Parker said. “Because a lot of adults are afraid.”