Her horse may be named Captain, but make no mistake, Mary Nelson is the one leading the way.
“I like that he’s really calm,” said 11-year-old Mary Nelson of Argyle.
For the last few years, Mary has been showing horses in competitions around the country and was excited to participate in this year’s Chisholm Challenge which allows equestrian athletes with disabilities to compete.
“Whatever she wants to do we’ll find a way for her to do it,” said her mother Kate Nelson.
Mary was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy when she was six months old. It is a genetic condition that affects the body’s voluntary muscles, but it does not affect Mary cognitively.
Mary’s mother showed horses when she was young and was thrilled when Mary expressed interest in doing the same.
“She has said it has made her more confident and that she has felt a sense of responsibility when she comes out to work or volunteer,” said Nelson.
Using a robotic arm, she calls her ‘right hand man’, Mary has learned how to walk and trot Captain, brush him after workouts and, of course, reward him with carrots.
This week Mary became one of the first in a power chair to compete at the American Quarter Horse Association show during the Chisholm Challenge in Fort Worth. She hopes other kids will see what she’s doing and be empowered to try showing horses, too.
“Mary’s doing a great job as an ambassador to be able to open this up for other people,” said her trainer Mandy Cleveland with Stable Strides Farms. “I would love it if we’re able to make people unafraid and make people feel bold that they want to experience it.”
The Nelsons are hopeful Mary’s story will inspire more equestrian athletes and encourage more horse shows around the country to make their programs accessible to those with disabilities.