The Power of Horses: Special Olympics Riders Excel at State Equestrian GamesIngrid
Over 40 athletes, accompanied by their equine partners from therapeutic riding programs across seven regions of the state, converged at the Lander University Equestrian Center in Greenwood for the two-day 2023 Special Olympics South Carolina Equestrian Games.
Athletes, including adults, aged 8 and older with intellectual disability and/or developmental delays, as well as physical disabilities, were eligible to participate in this event. Participants competed in a variety of exciting events, including pole bending, trail competition, and English and Western equitation.
Breyden Anderson, 18, of Aiken, who has autism, was all smiles after winning a blue ribbon in pole bending, a speed and agility event that has roots in rodeo, where horse and rider weave a path between six poles arranged in a straight line.
Kerry Rains, a Special Olympics volunteer, said Breyden is an “excellent horseman” who takes time to run up the stirrups on his saddle before leaving the arena, an important safety step for horse and rider.
Pole bending is also a favorite of Danielle Kitrilakis, 34, of Horry County, a rider with Down Syndrome. “I like zig-zagging between the poles,” Kitrilakis said. “I also put diamonds on my riding helmet because I like to stand out a little bit.“
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The games also included divisioning of riders, where athletes competed with others of similar ability in equitable divisions. Greenwood-area riders included those who advanced to national Special Olympics Equestrian Games in Florida in 2022.
Among them were Jessica Kidd, 39, of McCormick, who has some developmental delays and intellectual disability, and Sam Neighbors, 33, who has a genetic disorder, Fragile X syndrome. Sam was tapped to carry the torch during May 6 opening ceremonies for the equestrian games.
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The trail pattern class, one of Sam’s favorite events, includes maneuvering horses through different obstacles, such as crossing a bridge.
Special Olympics South Carolina senior director of sports and competition Kelly Garrick said the state is divided into 16 areas, and the equestrian events have been a part of Special Olympics for more than two decades.
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The next national USA Special Olympics Games are slated for 2026 in Minnesota. The games provide a platform for athletes to progress to national and international competitions.
The Special Olympics also offer a variety of sports competitions year-round, and on average, there are 400 events throughout the year with around 30,000 athletes participating. For more information on involvement and events for South Carolina Special Olympics, visit their website or contact Garrick.
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