William Woods University will host the first WWU Equestrian Special Olympics State Invitational on April 5, highlighting the university’s new concentration in therapeutic riding.
Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with mental disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage and experience joy.
Gary Mullen, WWU equestrian studies division chair and associate professor of equestrian science, is in charge of planning and organizing the invitational.
“We needed to have an event like this in Missouri, but we didn’t and many other states already do,” he said. “Also, I wanted our students to have a hands-on learning opportunity. Therapeutic riding is an industry that has boomed in the past decade. Not all of our equestrian students want to ride or train, and we need to prepare them for this branch of the industry as well.”
Currently, there are approximately 800 certified therapeutic riding centers across the country and nearly 6,000 individuals on a waiting list to ride. To meet these rising needs, WWU began offering therapeutic riding instruction as a concentration within the equestrian science major last fall.
Mullen and WWU student Kate Woodard are collaborating on the Special Olympics project through the Mentor-Mentee Honors Program. The program was established at William Woods several years ago to encourage faculty and students to engage in joint research or creative projects.
According to Mullen, Woodard has been instrumental in getting this Special Olympics project up and running. They will be co-show managers.
“This is going to be a great event,” Woodard said. “It is an experience that has been handmade for our campus. It is a great opportunity for the students because they get to see each piece coming together during the planning and also get to see and participate in the end product.”
Woodard estimates that between 12 and 20 riders will participate, although that number could vary substantially as the word gets out about the event.
This is the first time in nearly a decade that anyone has even attempted to create an equestrian invitational for the Special Olympics because of the amount of resources needed to host an equestrian event.
“After presenting the event plan and proving to the regional and state director that the university had all of the necessary resources to produce this event, including faculty, students, horses and facilities, they were on board,” said Mullen.
Diane Brimer, central area director for Special Olympics, said, “This event has the potential to reach some individuals who do not usually participate in Special Olympics. It provides an opportunity to introduce more people to Special Olympics and I’m grateful to Gary and his crew for taking the lead on this.”
The invitational will be specifically tailored to fit the rider’s wants and needs and will be a combination of a competition and a showcase. It will also feature entertainment, door prizes, gift baskets, t-shirts and a silent auction.
However, Mullen stresses that safety is the number one priority. He says the event will be enjoyable, but structured and professional at the same time.
Questions regarding the WWU Equestrian Special Olympics State Invitational should be directed to Mullen at (573) 592-4280 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Persons wishing to make donations for Equestrian Special Olympics should contact Mullen, as well. The cost to sponsor one rider is $37.50. Donations of door prizes, food items and silent auction items will also be accepted.