Lage Adams leaves his wheelchair behind to ride the bronc with the help of his parents, Rebecca, left, and Gary Adams, second from right, of Pendleton and volunteer Bobby Garrett of Moses Lake, Wash. (Submitted photo)
UNION — The Eastern Oregon Livestock Show is hosting a very special rodeo for some extra special people.
The annual event will be hosting a Rascal Rodeo at 10 a.m. Sunday to allow individuals with special needs to have the opportunity to ride, rope and rodeo in a supportive environment that fosters safety and fun.
“I guess we are the rodeo version of Special Olympics,” said Ann-Erica Whitemarsh, founder of Rascal Rodeo, a non-profit based in Pasco, Wash., that produces rodeos for people with special needs.
Union will host the second of eight rodeos produced by Rascal Rodeo this year throughout Washington and Oregon. A Rascal Rodeo typically has about 40 participants and 150 volunteers. The youngest participant was 2 years old, while the oldest was 65.
Local volunteers will join event organizers and experienced volunteers traveling as far as the Tri-Cities, Wash., and Molalla.
Many volunteers will partner with participants as they work their way through the events.
“Be their friend and show them that they are loved,” Whitemarsh said.
Volunteers at Rascal Rodeos often talk about how much love they receive from the participants.
“It is unlike anything else I have ever done,” said Jennifer Lemos, a junior at Hanford High School in West Richland, Wash., who has volunteered at eight rodeos.
Although some of the participants cannot talk, they can laugh, squeal and smile.
“It really unlocks something in them they are not used to,” Lemos said. “They are smiling the biggest smiles you have ever seen.”
A Rascal Rodeo can be an emotional experience for some, especially those who watch their child with disabilities ride a horse for the first time.
“We’ve had parents and caretakers crying because they never believed they’d be able to ride a horse because they are confined to a wheelchair,” Whitemarsh said.
Whitemarsh said anyone with special needs should participate.
“Even caretakers who have doubts about their child’s ability, I highly encourage them to show up,” Whitemarsh said.
Whitemarsh recalled one individual from Redmond who was confined to a wheelchair and, she said, his caretaker had never heard him say a word in his life. Whitemarsh said the caretaker was crying and nervous about him riding a horse. After a successful ride, when he got home he said, “Horse.”
“Sitting on a horse is much different than sitting in a wheelchair,” Whitemarsh said. “They get to use muscles and body parts they don’t normally use.”
The Rascal Rodeo includes roping, barrel racing and some “rowdy rides.” A 55-gallon barrel “bull” rocks side to side and the “bronc” rocks front to back. Then there is the “wild cow” with calf bottle teats.