Rascal Rodeo brings smiles

Written by Kelly Ducote, The Observer June 10, 2013 10:30 am

Local special-needs man has chance to work with real cowboy 

UNION — The Eastern Oregon Livestock Show arena was full of smiles Sunday morning as area special-needs people made their way through their very own rodeo.

The Rascal Rodeo made its debut at the stock show, featuring stations for participants of all ages to rope, ride and even barrel race.

Melody Huitt of Union brought three of her children to the event after hearing about it in a school flyer.

“They’re having fun,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful.”

TJ Huitt, Melody’s 26-year-old son, was excited to be able to go and even more excited to work with a professional cowboy.

“TJ just about bawled when he found out he’d get to be in a rodeo,” Huitt said.

Huitt has two able-bodied daughters who grew up doing rodeo, so it was special for her other children to have something of their own.

Professional bullfighter Darrell Diefenbach volunteered at Rascal Rodeo before his own rodeo Sunday afternoon.

“It makes me appreciate what I have,” he said. “The least we can do is take a couple hours out of our day to help these kids out.”

Diefenbach helped TJ make the rounds to the various stations set up in the arena.

“TJ has a pretty cool personality. He was fun,” Diefenbach said. TJ said riding the horses was his favorite, but he also enjoyed roping.

Melody Huitt was pleased with the volunteers at the event.

“People are very gentle and respectful,” she said.

Rascal Rodeo founder and president Ann-Erica Whitemarsh held her first Rascal Rodeo in 2001 as a project during her senior year of high school. Now, she’s running them as part of her nonprofit, based in Pasco, Wash., all over the Northwest.

“There’s usually people in tears,” she said of the rodeos.

Rascal Rodeo board member Jeff Bellingham said that’s part of what makes the events so special.

Bellingham recalled a previous rodeo where a boy confined to a wheelchair got to ride a horse for the first time. After his caretaker of 13 years got him situated back in his wheelchair, the boy gave her a kiss on the cheek, something she had never experienced from him.

“You can’t buy what these people are getting,” Bellingham said.

Whitemarsh said it’s incredible to see what has become of her senior project.

“It’s crazy that I have a nonprofit, but God’s guiding me in the right direction,” she said. “The volunteers, the committees have been incredible to work with and the communities have embraced us.”

Whitemarsh said she hopes this is just the first of many appearances the Rascal Rodeo will make in Eastern Oregon.

For the Huitt family, the Rascal Rodeo is something they don’t want to miss.

“We will be here every time,” Melody Huitt said.

Contact Kelly Ducote at 541-786-4230 or This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it Follow Kelly on Twitter @lgoDucote.