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Ann-Erica Whitemarsh of Pasco, Washington took a leap ten-years ago to start a rodeo for people with special needs. She wanted to help those of any age with physical and developmental disabilities discover unknown abilities in a safe, modified rodeo environment.
The non-profit event is called the “Rascal Rodeo” which includes stick-horse and wheelchair barrel racing, cow milking from plywood cut-out cows with calf-bottle udders, steer roping with roping dummies, and horse rides.
When the participants arrive, they watch a professional rodeo, then get dressed up to become cowboys and cowgirls themselves in the same arena.
"They are given the opportunity to put on the Rascal Rodeo t-shirt that says ‘participant’ on it and has our logo," says Whitemarsh. "And then a bandana, a sheriff badge, a replica Miss Rodeo America crown, and a cowboy hat. Sometimes they don’t want to wear any of that, they like the shirt that they have on and that’s fine too."
It isn’t just about being a cowboy or cowgirl, it’s an opportunity for them to discover their abilities.
"We’ve had people that are non-verbal say their first words, whether it’s been in their entire life and the first word they ever said was cowboy or horse," she says. "We’ve had participants smile for the first time in three months, and the parents are just in shock because they can’t believe what their special needs child of any age was able to accomplish."
It takes a lot of volunteers and sponsors to pull off each event, but she says the experience is miraculous.