Freedom Hooves clients ride proud during Moffat County Fair horse show
Bobby Holmberg has grown used to a vantage point from a wheelchair, though being in a different seated position Saturday afternoon at Moffat County Fairgrounds meant a great deal to him.
As part of the Western Division for the Open Horse Show at the 101st Moffat County Fair, clients of Freedom Hooves Therapeutic Riding of Northwest Colorado showed their equine prowess.
For the first time at the fair, a class dedicated to entrants with disabilities was part of the program.
Program Director Talisha Christiansen and Executive Director Connie Sue Ellis said the effort to have clients participate in the fair with their own category was several years in the making.
“It’s pretty darn exciting,” Christiansen said.
With guidelines by the American Quarter Horse Association for riders who have different mental and physical capabilities, Freedom Hooves personnel have worked with clients for the past few months on the process of riding and showing the animals.
Holmberg and Matthew Stehle were among the clients who saddled up for the show, which took some considerable preparation.
Holmberg needed assistance being lifted from his wheelchair, atop a flatbed truck, onto a horse named Jill, complete with a special harness.
“The horses are specially trained for that,” Christiansen said.
“There’s a whole of talking and letting him feel what’s in front of him so he knows what’s happening,” she said. “They’ve been working all summer, and they’ve been able to learn to trot, learn horsemanship skills.”
Stehle, on the other hand, is blind, which required different handling.
Christiansen said she was pleased to see clients able to show off their new skills outside the Freedom Hooves property.
“There’s always that safe place in the arena, but for them to be a part of this and learn, it’s just amazing,” she said.
Christiansen added that the work of the program also helps clients learn to cope better with emotional stress, motor skills, and other unexpected challenges.
“Their progression is so independent and individual in some very big ways,” she said.
Jaxom Gunderson, Katlyn Miller, and Jason Latham also showed their steeds in the fairgrounds, each tying for first place for their efforts.
Jaxom’s mother, Tilila, was proudly shooting video of her 12-year-old son as he took the animal by the bridle after only getting his first encounter with horses in May.
“He was kind of timid about the horses at first. He’s a pretty big kid, but they’re big too,” she said. “Now he’s trotting without worrying about falling off so that’s good. He’s got more confidence and a little more muscle, since it takes some of that to work with them. He’s learned a lot of responsibility, too.”
Christiansen said she hopes the segment can be a regular feature of the Moffat County Fair in coming years.
“I really want to thank the people with the fair for being so flexible with us,” she said. “It’s so unique and so special.”