Being their best

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Special Olympics athlete Don Roper of Clovis competes in the pole bending event Saturday at the Curry County Events Center.

Liliana Castillo

One of the six major state Special Olympics New Mexico events took place Friday and Saturday at the Curry County Events Center.

Forty-four athletes competed in the six equestrian events held, according to equestrian games director Roxie Burgess.

Spokesperson for Special Olympics New Mexico Oscar Solis said the organization serves 2,600 athletes statewide with 12 Olympic-style sports.

“Equestrian is the most unique sport we offer because of the relationship between the rider and the horse,” Solis said. “They respect the horses so much and the horses appreciate that.”

Solis said the athletes are never overly competitive.

“It’s always about having the opportunity to participate in sports,” Solis said. “It’s about being your best, not the best.”

Special Olympic athlete Don Roper of Clovis agreed.

“I don’t have a favorite,” Roper said. “I like all of them (events). I just like having fun.”

Roper and his wife Becky have been competing in the equestrian competition for the past two years.

“I did real good yesterday,” Becky Roper said Saturday. “Now I’m just watching Don.”

The Ropers also took time to watch their friends compete between Don’s runs. The couple said they prepared for the competition by riding and exercising several times a week for the past three months.

Both said the horses make the competition special.

“I just like horses,” Don Roper said. “I’ve liked them since I was 13.”

Becky said her whole family would ride together when she was a child.

Athlete Kathy Nelson, 20, came from Portales for the competition.

“I like the horses,” Nelson said after her pole bending, barrel racing and figure eight stake racing run.

Nelson said she practiced on her horse Jasper for three months. This was Jasper’s first competition.

“It’s all about her talent,” Jasper’s owner Steve Lambert of Clovis said.

Nelson said she prefers speed events like pole bending over things like stock and seat application.

Events that took place were stock and seat application, showmanship and halter, working trails, pole bending, barrel racing and figure eight stakes race.

Burgess said awards are given based on place in each event and the high point male and female in each division receive a buckle.

Burgess said the Clovis event’s success is due to the community being receptive of the event.

“We have so many people who have donated food, money, volunteers,” she said. “It’s just been great.”

This is the second year the competition was held indoors at the Curry County Events Center and Burgess said out-of-town competitors can’t say enough good things about it.

Solis said the event helps build up the community.

“Through sports as a vehicle, we are building an environment of acceptance and inclusion,” he said.