Rebekah Holt

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Freedom on Hooves - Equestrians With Disabilities Compete at the Chisholm Challenge

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Every year at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, a group of trail blazing men, women, boys and girls gather in the John Justin Arena to compete at the Chisholm Challenge. The Chisholm DSC 5174 640x426Challenge competitors are similar to other people you’ll see at horse shows. Young and old—they love horses. Horse and human—they work all year fine tuning an arena presence and horsemanship skills. Visionary and resolute—they dream of the moment when handed the blue ribbon. Though resembling the spirit that embodies true horsemen and women, these Equestrians With Disabilities have to work long and hard to achieve goals by striding beyond the difficulties they face.

The unofficial start of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, the Chisholm Challenge is annually hosted the Monday through Wednesday before the event grounds swarm with maddening activity. While this exhibition offers many typical horse show classes, the Chisholm Challenge is more than your average horse show. It is a venue for riders that wake up every morning with physical, cognitive, and/or emotional challenges. Riders are judged according to their skill, not their disabilities. It is a chance for each rider to set personal goals in working with their horse and achieve them in a safe environment. The show is an opportunity for comradely and fellowship between the EWD riders, friends and family. Above all—the Chisholm Challenge is a real horse show that gives special North Texas exhibitors a place to make history in the world of Equestrians With Disabilities eventing.

A Privileged Encounter

DSC 5320 640x426A Christian friend and fellow riding instructor, Amanda Berry and I traveled to watch the 11th annual Chisholm Challenge (January 13-15, 2014). Having attended in 2012, I watched as it was evident riders had improved in their skills and the show was more competitive.  While there, I was privileged to meet the Trail Course's judge, Michael Richardson.  Having interviewed Mr. Richardson over the phone in 2012, meeting him was no disappointment.  Back in 2012, I had asked Mr. Richardson about how this show is judged.   “When I’m judging the trail course, I look at the whole picture. I watch the rider’s eyes and see how much they are assisting their horse through the pattern. Are they completing the required movements of the course? I judge for improvement—the way I would want to be judged."

Michael Richardson considers judging for the Chisholm Challenge an honor. January 2014 made it Michael’s 9th year to be a judge for the show. An active horse trainer, clinician and speaker, Mr. Richardson offers a unique perspective when it comes to judging. In 1986, Michael survived a traumatic vehicle accident that nearly ended his life. Though injuries left him paralyzed waist down, this horseman has risen beyond calamity. “My chair doesn’t define who I am. My perspective has created more ability. These Chisholm Challenge riders are no different. They can and do understand that at this show they’re showcasing their abilities to work with a horse. It is important as a judge to take our job and role seriously and remember that this is not a disabled horse show—it is a horse show.”

Michael believes that the Chisholm Challenge will be a template for other EWD shows. “It has already helped create opportunities for these horse people. Even the American Quarter Horse Association started began their first EWD horse show at the Chisholm Challenge.”


Michael Richardson - Video Clip


Meet One of the Competitors: Fort Worth Police Officer

DSC 4674 640x426Watching Fort Worth Police Officer Lisa Ramsey ride her horse Cody is a miracle in motion. “I shouldn’t be able to ride like I do. When I ride most people don’t realize that my physical disability is often worse than most of the riders at the show.”

Several years ago, Lisa was shot in the line of duty. The bullet pierced her lung, removing inches of her spine and leaving her paralyzed chest down. Overcoming tragedy, Lisa’s positive outlook has stood the test of time, “People in chairs usually inspire fear in others. They’re so angry about life and unhappy. Who wants to be around people like that? I’m the same person before I was put in this chair—I just move slower. I want people to be happy to see me. Life goes on.” Today, Lisa rides with All Star Equestrian DSC 4764 640x426Foundation. Her instructor, Cynthia Amodai co-founded the Chisholm Challenge at its conception. Though severely handicapped, Lisa’s ability to ride without adaptive equipment is astounding! “My muscles just lock into place when I get on a horse—like an able bodied rider. I guess it’s just muscle memory since I used to ride as a young girl.”

For Lisa, the costume drill team is the highlight of the entire horse show. “It is so much fun. When our drill team walked out into the arena—it was a show stopper. One year we dressed the horses like dinosaurs.   Everybody was laughing and having a good time.  I wait all year for that show. It’s over before I’m ready. I’d really love for there to be more shows like the Chisholm Challenge.”

Indeed--this year, the Costume Drill Classes were the show stopper.  Lisa and Cody were part of Mother Goose's Nursery Rhymes as Humpty Dumpty and the wall (Cody's part!).  Eight Drill teams performed in costume to choreographed drills set to music. 

DSC 5012 426x640Showcasing that Disabilities Give Opportunity to Possibilities

Horse shows like the Chisholm Challenge fill a need in our society.  In the words of one mother of a rider, "As a parent of a special needs, non-verbal son, there are not too many places for my child to shine. At the Chisholm Challenge, I get to watch my son be thrilled over riding in the John Justin arena. It really is a special moment."

EWD shows help showcase the abilities of people that have been born or later in life found themselves with a disability. They help remind our society that people with special needs are people.  As the competitors of the Chisholm Challenge illustrate, disabilities give opportunity to possibilities.

As Michael Richardson shared, "The reality is that these riders are just out there to maximize their abilities—not their inabilities. That’s true for all of all horse show competitors. The difference with most people is that we so often dwell on the negative—we don’t look for the positive. But when you see the smiles of the Chisholm Challenge competitors, you’re uplifted. After every Chisholm Challenge, I leave better. I wish more people could experience this.”

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