Exceptional buckaroos take to the ring at the 2019 Exceptional Kids Rodeo

Photo by Jessica Brodkin Webb. A participant of the Exceptional Kids Rodeo raises her arms while riding a makeshift horse.

Local budding cowboys and cowgirls spent time in the arena at the 2019 Exceptional Kids Rodeo last week. With the sun setting on the rough dirt, children with special needs had an opportunity to participate in rodeo events in a safe and cheerful environment.

Organized by Lead Director of the Lakeside Rodeo Pageant Sydney Morehouse, the event was held with generous support from the El Capitan Rodeo Association. Local sponsors funded the entire event, with some local stores also providing goodies such as mini yogurts from Yogurt Barn of Lakeside and Ramona for the children to take home from the event.

“Everything that ECRA does is amazing but I realized a few years ago that the ‘stick race’ held at the regular rodeo was overwhelming for many children with special needs; when I went to another rodeo, out-of-town, I saw an event that was created for children in special education and I decided to duplicate something similar here in East County,” Morehouse said.

Community volunteers start organizing each January to pull together the event, free to community children who did not have an avenue in which to participate in Rodeo events prior to the establishment of the Exceptional Kids Rodeo three years ago.

In addition to holding stick races in a comforting environment, the event also included personal instruction from locals who volunteered to teach the kids a few roping basics with equipment donated by Ropes Galore. Children were given as many chances as they needed to master the art of roping a stationary bull around its’ horns with encouragement from local Rodeo and area queens.

Across the arena, a stationary bull and horse made from soft fabric and large haybales supplied for free by Carter’s Hay & Grain with innocent-looking papier-mache heads were set up for the children to ride. Volunteers stood behind the faux “bucking” animals to rock the platforms at a pace that was comfortable for each child.

Before leaving, each participant was given a trophy for their exceptional skills and encouraged to return in subsequent years. According to Morehouse, the event continues to grow in scope and next year’s plans include a miniature horse and miniature donkey supplied by Elisa Peskin of Back In The Saddle and Farm Friends Therapy Animals of Alpine.