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LASSO and Special Olympics — teamed up to cowboy up

Pagosa Springs Special Olympics and LASSO, (Large Animal Southwest Support Organization) have teamed up for the past three years to put the athletes and the horses together for a wonderful three-day camp.

Athletes, their families, LASSO volunteers and the horses have developed a special relationship that continues after the three days at camp are up. These two groups are small, but important non-profits that have come together to share in what seems to be a special bond, and one that, to some, might seem extra ordinary.

Unwanted horses taken in to be rehabilitated by LASSO rely on funding for food and vet bills. Currently, LASSO is taking in these horses as long as they have room, but the group needs financial support to continue. LASSO receives countless calls but can take in only what the budget allows. The waiting list is increasing daily. LASSO provides a safe haven for unwanted horses. The budget is determined by the donations the group receives and on proceeds from various fund-raisers that members organize each year.

It is from within this membership that volunteers come to help run the three-day horse camp. This year, the camp will be held Aug. 28-30.

Some of the volunteers bring their own horses and are teamed up with an athlete to work with them during camp. This is where the bond between volunteer and athlete begins. The horses used inside the arena are horses the owners believe are safe — working not only with their rider but also with other horses. There are as many as a dozen riders and their handlers all working within the arena. Everyone works together on skills and horsemanship.

The horses seem to know their riders are extra special. The patience and gentleness of each and every horse transfers from the horse to the athlete as they work inside the arena. Each athlete progresses at his or her speed. For some of the athletes it took years before they even got on a horse and now some of the athletes are ready to do their skills without their handler holding a lead rope.

Families and friends join in the fun at the ranch and cheer the accomplishments of each and every participant.

After riding and grooming their horses, members of the group assemble for lunch and a recap of the day’s events. Becky Berg, local program coordinator and camp leader Jody McAlister coordinate the activities with LASSO.

On the final day, awards are given out, as are certificates of participation for the athletes. This is a local Special Olympic activity; there is no regional or state competition for the athletes — but they don’t mind. They don’t need to compete to win with horseback riding because the victory is in the relationship and opportunity provided to them by LASSO.

If you would like to learn more about either Special Olympics or LASSO, or wish to donate to either of these non-profits, visit www.lassohorserescue.org, or www.specialolympicsco.org.