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Aiken hosts state Special Olympics Equestrian Games

Aiken Standard - 6/17/2018

June 16--Horses and riders from all over the state came to Aiken this weekend for the Special Olympics State Equestrian Show.

Riders with special needs and their coaches came from the Lowcountry, Upstate and the Midlands to Bruce's Field for the first Special Needs State Equestrian Games in seven years.

Aikenite BonnieAnne Fulghum's son, Dawson, competed in the games on Saturday.

Fulghum said Dawson feels that horses give him the freedom that God did not.

"He's in control of his world when he's on top of the horse and the horse can take him places that he cannot because he has muscular dystrophy as well as an intellectual disability," she said.

Riding horses gives people with special needs bonding, friendship, mobility and freedom, Fulgham said.

"We've had riders speak for the first time on horses," she said. "There have been instances where riders, you know, go eight or ten years and then they become verbal when they're riding a horse."

"For my son," she continued, "it's the fact that he is free and can trot, and walk and take trail rides and things that he can't do on his own. And friendship, a lot of individuals with disabilities have difficulties bonding with human beings, so they bond so well with the horses because the horses love human beings, so it's a really neat bond there."

Nicole Pioli, program and volunteer coordinator for Great Oak, said the Special Olympics event also gives riders an opportunity to be competitive.

"In Aiken, we have horse shows here every month, and now, thanks to the state Special Olympics and the Aiken Horse Park, we're giving kids from across the state an opportunity to be competitive and feel like they're able to show off their skills and their partnerships with their horses," Pioli said.

Riders from six areas of the state competed in the games Saturday. Teams came from Greenville, Greenwood, York County, Myrtle Beach and Beaufort to compete alongside riders from Aiken.

"I think the fact that Aiken is showing that they're an inclusive community is so amazing," Fulghum said, "As a mother of a child with disabilities and as someone who works in the disability world, I work for Tri-Development Center, so it is the perfect thing for me just to happen in our own community, and for them to welcome other individuals with disabilities into our community from all over the state is amazing."

Lindsey Hodges is a general assignment reporter at the Aiken Standard and North Augusta Star. Follow her on Twitter at @LindseyNHodges.


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