The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo opens its 2017 season on Friday, but an event considered the unofficial start to the show is already underway.
The 14th Annual Chisholm Challenge Horse Show wraps up its third day of competition on Wednesday. The event is for equestrians with disabilities many of whom represent equine therapy riding centers in North Texas.
Cami Hutchins, 23, says the therapeutic riding she gets at Mane Gait in McKinney helps her walk better and makes her legs stronger.
Just as beneficial, said Hutchins, is the feeling she gets when she rides into the John Justin Arena as a competitor in the Chisholm Challenge.
"I feel like I’m open, like I’m free," she said.
Abigail Smith, 14, rides for Stable Strides Farm in Flower Mound. She’s a veteran on horses, but a first-time competitor in the Chisholm Challenge.
"I have a lot of medical problems from the inside out, and I’ve had 13 surgeries in my life," said Smith. "I’ve had a lot of back pain, a bunch of stuff. I’m just happy to be here."
Smith, Hutchins and dozens of other riders compete in events such as equitation, western riding, showmanship, barrels, pole bending, drill team, driving and trial.
"The horse just adapts to the rider that’s on them, and that’s a neat experience," said veteran horse show judge Pat Burton. "It’s really neat to see that transition from the riders who are just beginning and unsure of themselves to really being confident about what they do and how they communicate with the horse."
Burton judged his first Chisholm Challenge a decade ago and returns every year. He admires the grit of these equestrians and cheers their progress.
"I judge for eight different breeds in mainstream shows, and I’ve judged all over the world, but this is my favorite show of the year," said Pat Burton. "I just love seeing the riders and how excited they are about the opportunity to ride."
The ride is especially exciting when it ends with a blue ribbon as it did for Abigail Smith.
"It feels great. I’ve worked really hard for it especially with this guy," said Smith of her horse Capitan. "He’s done great."