Fort Worth Stock Show

Disabled riders take the reins at Fort Worth’s Chisholm Challenge

Calvary Chriestenson competes in showmanship on the first day of the Chisholm Challenge for Special Riders on Monday at the Fort Worth Stock Show. The show officially kicks off Friday.
Calvary Chriestenson competes in showmanship on the first day of the Chisholm Challenge for Special Riders on Monday at the Fort Worth Stock Show. The show officially kicks off Friday. Star-Telegram

Sabrina Williams can’t see the walls in her room.

Every square inch is covered with ribbons she’s earned in equestrian competitions over the last two decades, said her mom, Glenda Williams.

“They’re all grouped by colors,” Glenda Williams said. “She has quite a few blue first-place ribbons. She has three or four trophies, too. And she finished third in the nation in 2014.”

Sabrina Williams, 30, of Dallas, was tickled with her fourth-place finish in Monday’s American Quarter Horse Association showmanship competition, which kicked off the three-day Chisholm Challenge for Special Riders at the Will Rogers Memorial Center. But rather than being her primary motivation, ribbons — and the competitive events where she wins them — are more like the icing on the cake.

“Everything’s about the horses,” she said. “Being with the horses is more important than winning.”

In its 13th year, the Chisholm Challenge is testing the skills of almost 200 riders, said Jessica Harrod, chairwoman for the series of events leading up to Friday’s opening of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.

The challenge brings riders into the John Justin Arena who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance of competing there, Harrod said. Watching them keeps Harrod, whose day job is technical director of Animal Emergency Hospital of North Texas, coming back every year.

“I do this for the riders’ smiles,” she said. “This is these riders’ Super Bowl. That’s what a rider told me last year. That’s also why I do it.”

Tuesday and Wednesday, North Texas therapeutic riding centers will bring equestrians to compete in such events as English equitation, Western equitation, Western riding, showmanship, barrels, pole bending, drill team, driving and trail.

Competitions like the Chisholm Challenge help draw riders to organizations like Equest Therapeutic Horseback Riding, where Joan Cutler is program director.

“The chance to show their skills is tremendously important,” said Cutler, who has worked with disabled children and adults for 34 years. “They may never play another sport. It can be a life goal to compete against others doing the same thing.”

And there are no participation ribbons, Cutler said. Whatever awards they get are real, earned.

“They’re judged on their skills, like cooperation with the horse, ability to follow directions, remembering patterns, posture and professionalism,” Cutler said.

Just being around horses can be therapeutic for people coping with a variety of mind and body disorders, said Glenda Williams, 61. She watched her daughter’s symptoms from Down syndrome improve almost instantly upon starting equine therapy in 1993.

“Walking with a normal gait was her big challenge,” Glenda Williams said. “Within three minutes, she started walking normally. Her speech has improved enormously, too, as well as her social skills. She’s very intense in competitions, but she’s not nervous. These are her friends.”

Indeed, Sabrina Williams volunteers at Equest and is one of the Wiley facility’s hardest workers, Cutler said. She feeds and waters the horses and mucks out their stalls.

“Her attitude is infectious and helps other volunteers be more happy to be there,” Cutler said.

Spending time with horses should make anybody happy, Sabrina Williams said. “People need to come and enjoy the party.”

If you go

Chisholm Challenge

The Chisholm Challenge continues at 8 a.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at the John Justin Arena at the Will Rogers Memorial Center.

Fort Worth Stock Show

The Fort Worth Stock Show begins Friday and continues through Feb. 8 at the Will Rogers Memorial Center at West Lancaster Avenue and University Drive.

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