By Samantha Clawson
The Hi-Line Therapeutic Riding Association will hold its third annual rodeo at 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bigger Better Barn at the Hill County Fairgrounds.
HILTRA is a therapeutical horseback riding program that helps developmentally disabled children improve many different skills.
The HILTRA rodeo has a lot of different events for kids to participate in. Horses and their riders will weave in and out of poles spaced about 20 feet apart in the pole-bending contest. In another event riders will take a flag from a bucket of sand and race down to the other end of the course and plunge it in another bucket of sand. Instead of using flags, younger kids will use teddy bears they brought from home. The rodeo also will feature a roping contest and bull riding. In the bull riding competition, kids will ride on "two hay bales with bull skulls on them with a rope tied around it. Then two clowns come and shake it while they ride," said Kathy Leeds, HILTRA secretary.
Three-year-old Zachary Acuna participated in the competition last year. In the teddy bear race he used his blue teddy but he liked the roping contest the best.
"He has his own rope at home," said his mother, Samantha Kolkman.
Zachary has been in the program for two years and this will be his second rodeo. Zachary is speech-delayed and went to two sessions of therapy held by the association this summer. Each session lasts a month and therapy takes place on horseback for an hour twice a week. Kolkman said the therapy has helped her son learn to use his voice more.
"The faster the horses move the more kids don't hesitate," she said, "The faster they move the more noise kids make." Zachary always has a good time riding his favorite horse, Jake. "He likes about the first 30 minutes and then he realizes he's working," Kolkman said. She doesn't get to help walk her son. "It's better if I don't walk him," she said. Instead she helps as a side walker for other children.
A side walker walks on the side of the horse and makes sure the child doesn't fall off. A lead walker leads the horse around the Bigger Better Barn arena. During each session a child needs at least four people to walk with him. Three kids ride at a time. HILTRA needs to have a minimum of 12 volunteers every hour.
Although HILTRA has more than 50 volunteers, they are looking for more.
"We need volunteers," said Leeds. The group could use volunteers twice a week, for two to three hours a night, during each session. The only qualifications for volunteers is that they are mature enough to make the commitment and tall enough to reach a child on horseback.
"It's fun to watch how the kids improve over the year," said Maggie Wilson, 12, a HILTRA volunteer for two years. She is a lead walker. "I basically lead the horse around and do figure eights and try not to swipe the side walkers," she said. Maggie has a sister, Keeley Wilson, in the program.
Keeley has Williams syndrome, a genetic disorder, and has developed more muscle tone and improved speech. This will be her first rodeo. All volunteers go through one and a half to two hours of training.
"It's been a really good experience," said Maggie. "We could always use more help."
Maggie is a big fan of horses. Of all the horses donated for HILTRA's use, she likes one the best. "Rooster is my favorite horse," said Maggie. "He's a quarter horse."
Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer can contact Sylvia Murray at 265-9788.
HILTRA has the use of six or seven horses for therapy sessions.
"They're all donated for our use in the summer," said Leeds. "We're hoping to get some old horses in good health donated."
HILTRA is funded through donations, fund-raisers and a grant from the United Way. HILTRA was formed in 1997 and currently has 21 children who participate. The children range in age from 2 to 16 and come from all over the Hi-Line. On Sept. 22 they will hold a barbecue dinner at the National Guard at 6 p.m. followed by an old-fashioned dance. On Sept. 23 at 2 p.m. they will have a trail ride at Marden campground in Beaver Creek Park.
The money made helps pay for therapists and the program director, and for scholarships.
Each session costs $100. No one has been turned away because he or she could not afford the fee.
The audience of the HILTRA rodeo has traditionally consisted of family members but this year the organization is hoping to get more involvement from the community. "Having a crowd there would really be appreciated," said Leeds. "We really try to make this a fun time for the kids."
Kolkman would also like to see more community participation. "A lot of people think it's silly to have the kids on horses but it does improve their quality of life," she said. "We want more of the community coming to see what we can do with the kids."