Back in the saddle

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Cynthia Fiala of Albuquerque competes Saturday in the New Mexico Special Olympics Equestrian Games at the Curry County Mounted Patrol Arena. Fiala also participated in the Ireland International Special Olympics Equestrian Games in 2003.

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

Cynthia Fiala rode her mustang, “Dusty,” through a barrel race Saturday at the Curry County Mounted Patrol arena with the ease from having ridden at a very young age.

Though she makes it look easy, the 26-year-old rider from Albuquerque said riding has its difficulties.

“(The challenge is) getting the horse to do what you want it to,” she said. “You have to get past your difficulties and think, ‘fun.’”

Fiala and 35 other riders competed at the New Mexico Special Olympics Equestrian Games.

Fiala started competing in the equestrian games five years ago. Her equestrian skills took her to Ireland in 2003, where she competed in the International Special Olympics Equestrian Games.

She said she enjoys meeting other people through competition.

The equestrian event for the Special Olympics started in 1985 at the state Special Olympics summer games in Albuquerque, said Equine Special Olympics founder Roxy Burgess. It moved to Clovis two years later because the temperament of the horses here are more suited to the riders.

“The (Albuquerque) horses were used for rodeos,” she said. “We needed to have … more tamed-down horses, and we knew they had them in Clovis.”

The annual event relies on volunteers who lend their horses to the event, said event coordinator Wendy Tombs.

“We couldn’t do it without support of the community,” Burgess said.

The sport follows a modified version of the American Quarter Horse Association rules since most riders don’t use their own horses, Tombs said. In the association’s competitions judges observe how the horses behave, more than the riders, but the judge for a Special Olympics event focuses more on the athlete, she said.

“We look at the athletes, how they do things, how they try and participate,” she said.

Athletes are divided into categories by their ability to ride independently or with a guide, Tombs said.

Clovis equestrian team coach Bonnie Light said most of the athletes also compete in other summer games events such as track and field, but their interest in horses drew them to the sport.

“When I first started we had athletes who were terrified of horses and riding them,” she said. “Now over 50 percent of our riders ride independently, so I feel like we’ve come a long way.”

Paula Holmes, who coaches the Albuquerque riding team, said the athletes have a passion for competition.

“They get to compete with other people with their own abilities and it’s no less competitive,” she said. “Their passion for horses and their passion for Special Olympics mesh so well.”