Adaptive rodeo offers options for people of all ages, abilities

Orange County Special Angels Rodeo

"It started with a dream.”

Kevin Norton of the Orange County Special Angels Rodeo said the inspiration for an adaptive sports rodeo sprung from one woman’s vision of an event inclusive of people of all ages with disabilities.

According to Norton, fellow founding board member Lue Harris woke from a dream feeling that God had given her a mission, and she aimed to make it a reality. That led her to reach out to others in the community, others like Norton, who joined the endeavor and have grown the event exponentially since its inception.

“This is our fourth year,” said Norton. “We had 114 participants the first year, and year three we had just over 300. It tripled in size. We’re expecting about the same number this year.”

Norton said the adaptive sports rodeo attracts people from far and wide, the young and the young at heart alike.

“Our youngest participant was 1 1/2 years old, and our oldest so far was 84,” he said. “We don’t focus on just one type of disability. Whether it’s significant brain trauma from an accident, or physical, or an intellectual or developmental disability, we don’t question that. We don’t turn people away. Everyone is welcome. It’s a blast!”

Norton also works with the Houston Rodeo. He said it’s great, too, but working with the Special Angels Rodeo gives him a sense of satisfaction well beyond what the Houston event could ever offer.

“That’s a lot of fun,” he said. “But this is fun, and it really touches your heart more than anything.”

The Special Angels Rodeo includes many of the same events as a traditional rodeo, but utilizes training aids and therapy horses that allow event staff to control the games based on participants’ skill and comfort levels.

For example, rather than bull riding, participants can go barrel riding. The barrel is on a maneuverable stand, and event volunteers use a handle at the back to move it up and down to simulate the bucking of a bull. There will also be a mechanical bull at the event.

Any of the participants who want can ride live horses generally ridden for therapeutic purposes, making them very gentle, said Norton. The horses are equipped with specialized saddles when needed, allowing participants who use wheelchairs to ride if they so desire.

“We only encourage them to do what they’re comfortable with,” he explained. “They do get to ride a live horse if they choose to. Sometimes, we have people who don’t want to ride a live animal, but by the time this is over, we can’t get them off the horses.”

For the barrel races, Norton described, a four-wheeler driver navigates through the barrel pattern, charges in tow on a trailer.

In addition to the entertaining rodeo events guests can enjoy, attendees will also have access to carnival games, bounce houses and a wide variety of free food from Subway, Honey-B Ham in Lake Charles and other generous donors.

According to Norton, the Special Angels Rodeo always needs more volunteers. Anyone interested in volunteering should contact him at (409) 651-9948 or visit the group’s website at www.specialangelsrodeo.org. The website also has a more information about the organization and its history.

Norton invites the community to come out and enjoy the show Nov. 11. He said it’s a great chance to “take a break” from fixing Harvey-ravaged homes to be inspired and have some fun.

“It’s a good chance for people to escape the devastation and just relax for a while.”

Join Norton and the Special Angels on Saturday, Nov. 11, at the T2 Arena and Event Center, 3810 Old Peveto Road in Orange. Check-in begins at 9 a.m., and the opening ceremonies begin at 10 a.m. The event ends at 4 p.m. T2 is a covered arena, so come rain or shine.

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