Rascal Rodeo gives people with special needs a chance to ride at Lynden fair

LYNDEN — On Tuesday night, Kieran Roxas was watching professional cowboys at the rodeo. The next afternoon, he was riding horses and throwing lassos like a pro in a rodeo of his own.

Kieran, 8, was one of about 50 participants in the Rascal Rodeo Wednesday, Aug. 13, at the Northwest Washington Fair. The free, all-ages event gives people with physical and mental disabilities a chance to show off their inner ranch hand.

The Roxas family recently moved to Bellingham from Wyoming, so Kieran knew a thing or two about horses. While all the kids got bandanas, badges and cowboy hats, Kieran came dressed in his own hand-crafted leather vest.

“He’s a cowboy through and through,” Barbara Roxas said of her son, who was so excited for the rodeo that he asked his mom to run to the event as soon as they got out of the car. “He’s been riding horses since he was 20 months old. This is his thing.”

The Rascal Rodeo took place in the Grandstand at the fairgrounds, the same place the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association event had been staged the night before, though rain-soaked mud moved some of the activities to the asphalt.

Kieran and the event’s other participants practiced roping a hobby-horse steer, rode wobbling barrels decorated like broncos and bulls, got a turn at milking a large cut-out cow, barrel-raced stick ponies and even got to ride real horses around the arena. At the end of the event, the song “Cotton Eye Joe” came on and Kieran danced energetically as a crowd of volunteers gathered round and clapped to the beat.

“We’re so happy to know there’s something for kids like our son to pursue their own passion,” Roxas said. “This is kind of a dream come true.”

Sonjia Henson’s hands shook and she had tears in her eyes as she took video of her son, Nicholas, 9, riding a horse for the first time. Nicholas doesn’t speak, but when he likes something he points or smiles. Though he was nervous at first, he was smiling as he rode the horse. “That was awesome,” Henson said. “I was just really proud. He’s not scared of them anymore. That’s the best part. He’s learning new things. That’s all I can ask for is him learning.”

Henson teared up as she hugged event founder Ann-Erica Whitemarsh after her son took his ride.

“That right there,” Whitemarsh said, noting that she gets just as much out of the event as the participants do. “It’s hard to keep a dry eye.”

The Rascal Rodeo travels throughout the Northwest, and this was the first time it had been part of the fair. Whitemarsh hopes to make it an annual trip.

For Carrie Coppinger Carter, the rodeo was business and pleasure. Her law firm sponsored the event, and her son, Dylan, 4, took part as his older brothers volunteered and cheered him on.

“We all come with our different abilities, but deep down everybody has their hopes and dreams,” Coppinger Carter said. “To see that come to life on their faces, that’s the reward.”

For kids who often have to tag along with siblings to their practices and events, this event was just for them, where they could be the star of the show.

“He’s just a gift of hope and love and brings joy to every day,” Coppinger Carter said of Dylan. “It is great to see an event solely for him, where he can show that to everybody.”

“This is Dylan’s chance at the rodeo.”


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