Avelyn Muñoz sat excitedly in her fringe cowboy boots on Tuesday morning at the National Western Stock Show. She didn’t know what to expect when she went into the arena, but she knew it was the day she would become a cowgirl.
Avelyn, a 9-year-old Garden Place Academy third grader, was one of 20 students who took part in the Exceptional Rodeo at the Stock Show on Tuesday, a program pairing a student with special needs from Denver with a professional cowboy or cowgirl to participate in mock-rodeo activities.
By the time Avelyn walked out of the arena after having met Thunder the Broncos mascot, learning how to rope a wooden steer, and ride a wooden and stuffed bull – she beamed, and held a new trophy and her very own lariat rope.
“My favorite part was throwing the lasso,” she said. “I’m maybe going to practice at home.”
Across the arena Dylan Pasiencia, 5, a kindergartener at Garden Place Academy, quietly said that he liked meeting the horse because it was soft and he liked its teeth.
“He loved getting to be near Thunder – every time we went to go try a different activity, he just wanted to get back to the horse,” said Riley York, a professional steer wrestler from Quincy, Calif., who was paired with Dylan and his father Luna for the event.
York said he enjoys being able to share rodeo with kids who may not otherwise have such an opportunity.
“It’s about giving back – we try to give back when we can,” York said. “It lets a guy know how blessed we are to do what we do every day. It really opens your eyes that every day is a gift.”
Adam Daurio, Director of Administration and Outreach for the Temple Grandin Equine Center at Colorado State University, coordinated finding neighborhood students to participate in the Exceptional Rodeo, a first-time event at the Stock Show. He said the event is one example of outreach that CSU and the National Western Stock Show can accomplish through collaboration.
The Temple Grandin Equine Center will begin hosting regular equine assisted activities and therapies on the Stock Show grounds by March 1, and will open a permanent second location at the reimagined National Western Center within one of the CSU facilities at the reimagined site.
“This is a community outreach program that showcases Western heritage and the healing power of animals for all individuals, regardless of their abilities or disabilities,” Daurio said. “These are the kind of activities we will expand upon in the coming years.”
The Exceptional Rodeo fits the Stock Show’s mission of outreach and “to preserve the Western lifestyle,” said Dana Porter, Director of Partnership Services and Education at the NWSS.
“Sometimes we take it all for granted,” agreed Miss Rodeo Colorado Kelsie Winslow. “Being able to see it through their eyes we realize it is much bigger than ourselves – it’s much bigger than rodeo – it’s about impact.”
It’s about impact … and, well, sometimes it’s about the trophy.
James Richardson, a 6-year-old Swansea Elementary School kindergarten student, was all about the trophy. As soon as the event ended he had made plans to place his new trophy with the two others in his room. Even though James’ favorite activity of the day was “getting a trophy,” he also said he “felt like a real cowboy.”
The Exceptional Rodeo represented big strides for Laura Esparza’s son Jose Orona, an 8-year-old in 2nd grade at Garden Place Academy.
“This is something new for him,” Esparza said. “When he was little he feared horses and didn’t want to even get near them. About six months ago he started to try out new things so this is exciting for him.”
Deborah Florez, grandmother of D’Angelo Florez, a 5-year-old in kindergarten at Garden Place Academy, said her grandson has been literally jumping up and down about being a part of the rodeo for days. His only disappointment was that he had to go to school in the morning before coming to the Stock Show.
“He hasn’t been to the rodeo, he used to be timid about things like this,” Florez said, noting that her grandson has had problems with his speech, which has impacted his confidence throughout the years. “Now he understands it more and is more excited about doing things. He wants a lot of pictures so he can remember it. It makes him feel special.”
About the Temple Grandin Equine Center
The College of Agricultural Sciences at Colorado State University is currently raising funds to build a Temple Grandin Equine Center on the Fort Collins campus. The facility will house faculty members and graduate students conducting research in the area of equine assisted activity and therapy. Therapy sessions will also be held at the future Fort Collins facility where parents, children, and other patients can have a safe, welcoming, and private space. For more information, contact Jill Higham in the college’s Development Office.
Colorado State University and the National Western Center
Colorado State University has made a long-term commitment to the reimagining of the National Western Center in North Denver, and the communities surrounding the project. Efforts are under way to create partnerships with community schools, non-profits and businesses, and to actively engage in the community.
A key and founding partner in the National Western Center, CSU will have three buildings within the 250-acre campus upon completion. The project, which will break ground in the coming years, expands and regenerates the current National Western Stock Show site, turning it into a vibrant, year-round experiential, community-centric, life-long learning destination in the heart of Denver.
As Colorado’s land-grant university, CSU’s mission of research, service, and access, fits with the outreach mission of the National Western Center. CSU’s plans at the new campus focus on research and education programming in the areas of food systems, water, environment, energy and health. The university has initiated programming and service outreach efforts before buildings are constructed, as part of its commitment to the area. For additional information, visit nwc.colostate.edu.