They rope, they race and they ride.
The Special Needs Rodeo at the Arizona High School Rodeo Association State Finals Rodeo may last only an hour each year, but the memories participants ride away with endure.
“We host dances and all kinds of things, but the rodeo is off the charts and it fills their hearts with joy for weeks to come,” said Lucy Karrys. “It’s so heartfelt because it’s an unusual event.”
Karrys is the coordinator for the Payson Family Special Needs Support Group and has been heavily involved in the Special Needs Rodeo each June since it debuted in Payson some six years ago. The rodeo is held once a year at the AHSRA State Finals Rodeo, which was taken place in Payson for several years.
Karrys said 30 children and adults with special needs participated in this year’s rodeo at Payson Event Center on Thursday morning. That’s a lot more than last year.
“We have four day programs that brought their residents, adult day care or special needs,” Karrys said. “We’re thrilled that our attendance went up from 10 or 15 last year to 30.”
She and AnnDee White, of Queen Creek, who started the event, pushed AHSRA officials to move the event to the morning. It had previously been held at noon. Midday temperatures in June in Payson often approach the upper 80s or low 90s. This year’s rodeo took place at 9 a.m.
“Having it at noon really eliminated so many people who are heat sensitive (or) on heat sensitive meds,” Karrys said. “It’s just wonderful this year.”
A lot happened in the one-hour rodeo.
“It’s controlled chaos, but it’s fun controlled chaos,” White said.
AHSRA cowboys and cowgirls helped the participants with each activity, from goat tying, horse painting, wooden horse barrel racing, wooden horse pole bending and “bull riding,” which consisted of sitting on a barrel as a cowboy manually maneuvers it to simulate bucking.
That’s athlete Logan’s favorite event, although he also enjoyed putting his painted handprint on the two ponies. Logan goes by the nickname “Green Diamond.”
He turned in an eight-second scoring bull ride. His experience riding horses at Dueker Therapeutic Ranch seems to be paying off, although he participates in this rodeo every year.
White started the event as a way to get everyone involved in rodeo.
“We have a lot of rodeo families that have some special needs kids in the family and I just thought this was a way to incorporate them into our program and let them be a part of everything, as well,” White said.
White said the event is just lots of fun for everyone.
“This is the High School Rodeo Association giving back to the communities involved with our rodeos,” she said.
It wouldn’t be possible without the help of the AHSRA cowboys and cowgirls.
“Our high school kids love this event; it’s always the highlight of the whole weekend here for us,” White said. “We started it about seven years ago and are going to keep going with it.”
White said the AHSRA cowboys and cowgirls who volunteer to participate and help make the event possible really enjoy the experience.
“They love this because it gives them an opportunity to give back,” White said. “But it also shows them they need to stay humble and know how blessed they are.
“After this event every year I always get phone calls and texts from the kids and from parents saying how happy they are that their kids are involved in this and that they’re able to show them their skills.”
Helene Lopez traveled from Globe with four members of the Gila Employment and Special Training (GEST) Program.
“We’ve been coming for the past three years I believe, or better, and our members just love it. It’s a beautiful experience and the people here are awesome,” Lopez said.