By Jesse Wolfersberger: CNJ staff writer
Smiles — this weekend at the New Mexico Special Equestrian Olympics at the Curry County Fairgrounds, it seemed like everyone wore one. The fans had them, the trainers had them, but no one smiled bigger or brighter than the riders.
Program director Wanda Thompson said her smile comes from watching the riders.
“I just love the way they love it,” Thompson said. “They don’t care what they win. You can just look at their faces and tell that they love it. It’s good therapy for them.”
More than 20 of the 40 riders that competed Clovis competed in the two-day event were from the Clovis area. The athletes are put into different classes ranging from completely assisted to completely independent.
“The lower level, they really don’t understand controlling the horse or anything,” Thompson said. “But they love being up there. They just wave and smile at you, they want you to see that they are there.”
Other than the competitions, the weekend’s events include an opening ceremony on Friday night and an awards ceremony and dance on Saturday night.
The program has been operating for more than 20 years and relies on volunteers such as trainer Lexie Meyers to make the event happen.
“If you don’t have a special needs child, you don’t understand what they go through,” Meyers said. “This puts everything into perspective. After you get out here with the kids you realize that this is extremely important. We are touching so many lives with what we’re doing that wouldn’t be touched otherwise.”
Meyers again talked about smiles.
“The highlight is the kids, the smiles, the cheers,” Meyers said. “Listen to the cheers for a minute — that’s the highlight of everything.”
One of the riders, Cindy Vaughn, could hardly stop smiling to answer a few questions.
“I like everything,” Vaughn said about the event. “I like doing barrels because I’m a good trotter.”
When she’s not riding, Vaughn said, she likes watching the other athletes. She also said the rodeo is an event that she looks forward to all year.