Riders representing Gwinnett County brought home the gold, and lots of it, from last weekend's Special Olympics Georgia Horse Show.
The team, coached by Dr. Marilyn Peterson of Parkwood Farms Therapy Center in Snellville, medaled in all the categories it entered. The three-day annual competition for children and adults with disabilities brings together teams from across the state at the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry, just south of Macon.
Eight Parkwood Farms riders from age 8 to 23 represented Gwinnett in 27 beginner, intermediate and advanced events. They won a total of nine gold, seven silver and six bronze medals in the sprawling indoor and outdoor arenas that are a central feature of the fairgrounds.
"I couldn't be more pleased," Peterson said. "They did us all proud," and even the first-timers did well, she said.
Founded by Dr. Peterson to offer therapy for special needs children and adults, nonprofit Parkwood Farms has been participating in the Special Olympic show for nine years.
“It’s a great way for people with disabilities to learn a lot about what they can do,” said Rebecca Valdez, whose daughter Linda has ridden in Special Olympics Horse Show for the past three years.
Learning to ride at Parkwood Farms has given Linda confidence and has taught her patience, Rebecca said.
“Learning to control a large animal like that really gives you a feeling of confidence,” she said. “Not many other things compare with that.”
Parkwood Farms volunteer Caroline Stiles of Stone Mountain, who’s been friends with Linda since kindergarten, was among the many assistants that make it possible for riders with a wide range of disabilities to compete in the show.
“It was amazing,” she said of her first Special Olympics experience. “Seeing the kids ride and how happy it made them, and the environment was so welcoming and loving.”
Will she go back? “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
The end of the weekend was less happy, though, after the trailer carrying four horses broke down just south of Macon, causing a four-hour delay in getting home. It was the second year in a row that the team had vehicle problems, Dr. Peterson said, and the therapy center could use dollar or in-kind donations for mechanical and body work.
For more information about Parkwood Farms’ recreational and therapeutic riding programs, or to volunteer, call 678-344-6821 or visit the website.
Here's the breakdown of individual achievements:
Brandon Carmack of Lawrenceville: Silver in dressage, equitation and trail riding; bronze in showmanship
Braxton Breda of Lilburn: Gold in showmanship; silver in equitation and trail riding
Chris McClintic-Doyle of Stone Mountain: Silver in equitation; fourth in showmanship and trail riding
Hunter Sorenson of Grayson: Gold in showmanship, equitation and trail riding
Julian Stankee of Snellville: Gold in dressage, bronze in trail riding and fifth in showmanship
Lena Busbee of Dacula: Gold in showmanship and equitation, silver in trail riding and bronze in dressage
Lilly Kabel of Lilburn: Bronze in showmanship and trail riding; fourth place in equitation
Linda Valdez of Lilburn: Gold in equitation and trail riding; bronze in showmanship
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This article first appeared on Snellville Patch.