Special Olympians gallop to victory

By Jessica Bowman – email

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - More than 50 special needs competitors saddled up at the Harrison County Fairgrounds for the 13th Annual Mississippi Special Olympic Games on Saturday.

Riders from across Mississippi were ready for a day of intense competition. Days of practice lead up to the final Stock Seat Equitation competition. Each rider was paired with a teammate.

"Horses is my passion 'cause I love riding horses," said special Olympian Jodi Fairley.

Jodi Fairley was paired up with Rosie. The American Paint horse she rode gently guided her through the competition.

"I love riding Rosie 'cause she walks fast, and I enjoy riding her," said Fairley.

After many nights of practice the team shined in the spotlight.

"I won a gold medal," said Fairley.

You may not have heard many cheers coming from the crowd when the winning team was announced. That's because those who come to support the athletes clap in sign language so all competitors can see what a wonderful job they have done.

"We are out here to support them and see how they grow in the sport. It's just a blessing for us," said Jaime Wickham.

Supporters came from all around the magnolia state to cheer riders on and volunteer during the event.

Equine Director Pete Cain has been involved in the event for more than ten years. He said assisting with special needs competitors is a lifetime reward.

"I have learned more from you than I could ever teach you," said Pete Cain as he addressed the crowd.

Cain said that is truly how he feels towards Fairley and all special needs athletes.

The Mississippi Special Olympic Games are held twice a year. A benefit trail ride is held in Stone County to raise money for the event, along with donations from Lenny and Earline Sawyer. The couple started the games in 1996.

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