The Sunshine State lived up to its name on January 21st when more than 20 athletes gathered at the Jacksonville Equestrian Center to compete in the 2018 Special Olympics Florida Area 5 Equestrian Championships.

The event was part of the Special Olympics program, which provides opportunities for children and adults with intellectual disabilities to compete in a wide variety of sports from figure skating and swimming to Judo and equestrian.

“Equestrian allows our athletes to gain self-confidence, physical ability, and self-awareness,” says Special Olympics Area 5 Director Kate Breese. “Our athletes also benefit on a social level. They are able to compete with their peers and make new friends.”

The Special Olympics are epitomized by athletes who rise above their disabilities to display skill, determination, and passion for their sports. The athletes at the Jacksonville Equestrian Center did just that while competing in English and Western Equitation, Working Trail, and Showmanship. Friends and family enthusiastically cheered on the equestrians, who ranged in age from 9 to 61 years old.

Their hard work and practice was evident as they guided their horses through a challenging trail course and demonstrated their equitation and showmanship skills. Top-placing equestrians will be eligible to compete at the Special Olympics State Equestrian Championships in Weirsdale, Florida, on March 23rd and 24th.

Caleb Prewitt stops to share a smile with his horse in between competitions. Candice Barnes

The event wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of Breese, coach Perry Hopper, and Hope Therapy director Rebecca Davenport. The Jacksonville Equestrian Center donated their facilities for the event and the judges, Special Olympics county directors, coaches, and volunteers all freely gave their time and talents to make the event a success. Thanks to their efforts, the athletes had an opportunity to shine in the sport that they love.

“My favorite part of all of our events is watching our athletes compete in a setting they may not typically be able to compete in,” says Breese. “It is such a joy to watch them finish their event, put their hands in the air, and cheer along with spectators. You can see the pride they have in themselves, their ability, and the confidence they have gained as a direct result of participating in Special Olympics.”

That pride was well-earned by the all the athletes who competed. They displayed not only horsemanship skills and sportsmanship, but smiles that gave the Florida sun some serious competition. 

Christopher Frierson is all smiles after completing the Working Trail course. Candice Barnes

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