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Oklahoma Paint Horse Club Helps Challenged Competitors Ride Tall in the Saddle

FORT WORTH, Texas—For most people, the new year ushers in new challenges and pledges of well-meaning resolutions. Such was the case for Oklahoma Paint Horse Club members, who earlier this year took on the challenge of raising money for two worthwhile causes—Harvest Farms Therapeutic Riding Center in Shawnee, Okla., and St. Jude’s Cancer Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

Club members had high hopes of raising a few thousand dollars for the charities. However, they exceeded even their own expectations when they raised $7,800 for the causes during their Holiday Classic Paint Horse show in Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma Paint Horse Club hosted a challenged rider class at the show in an effort to pilot a program that would serve as an example of the caring attitude of American Paint Horse Association (APHA) members and clubs. Challenged rider classes provide opportunities to those with disabilities to participate in riding programs that display their talents on horseback.

Oklahoma Paint Horse Club President and APHA National Director Kevin Hardcastle worked with Harvest Farms, a nearby therapeutic riding center, to organize the event and invited the academy’s riders to participate. Expecting around six or seven riders to compete, the club was ecstatic with the turnout. Twenty-three riders, ranging from 3 to 24 years old, showed up for the class, leaving the horse show under-staffed—with horses, that is. Fortunately, the Oklahoma City Mounted Police stepped up and provided eight additional horses so everyone could show.

Of the 23 riders, 21 were from North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA)-sanctioned Harvest Farms Riding Academy, which is owned and operated by Dr. Jackie Wilks. Harvest Farms has been in operation for four years, and was started with the purchase of a yearling Paint mare, Titans Hopeful Image, who gave new hope to Wilks after she underwent a mastectomy.

“The greatest reward I get is seeing the satisfaction on the child’s face,” said Wilks. “Many of my students tell me that being with the horses is the one place where they feel proud of themselves and not judged.”

During the challenged rider class, exhibitors were mounted and entered the arena one at time wearing flashy show attire provided by volunteers at Harvest Farms, as well as big smiles of their own. All of the riders waved to the crowd and demonstrated their equestrian skills. A short biography was read about each rider, highlighting his or her talents and special interests.

“It was amazing,” said Hardcastle. “After the riders paraded around the arena, people told me it was one of the greatest things they have ever seen. It was very moving and captured a lot of people’s attention.”

Later in the day following the moving event, the Oklahoma Paint Horse Club held a chili cook-off competition in order to raise money for Harvest Farms and St. Jude’s Cancer Research Hospital. Susie Shaw, an APHA national director from Parsons, Tenn., and an avid chili cook-off competitor, assisted Hardcastle in the planning. Chili chefs were invited to compete and club members purchased the opportunity to judge the competition. The 15 available judges’ seats were auctioned off to the highest bidders. Seats sold from $300 to $800, bringing in a total of $6,500.

Along with the cook-off, the Oklahoma Paint Horse Club held a silent auction that raised $1,000. The OPHC Youth and Amateur programs then each donated $150 to the cause, for a grand total of $7,800.

“I was hoping to raise a couple thousand dollars, just to get this program started,” said Hardcastle. “The outcome was more than I could have ever imagined. It is amazing to see how much money horse show competitors are willing to donate for kids.”

After the event’s success, Hardcastle and other club members were inspired to continue their efforts to assist challenged riders. They would like to see challenged rider classes continue to grow in scope of participation. The Oklahoma Paint Horse Club and the Green Country Paint Horse Club, also in Oklahoma, will host a challenged rider class at each local horse show throughout the year, with one large charity event culminating at the Holiday Classic horse show. Hardcastle encourages each APHA regional affiliate to host at least one fund-raising class at one of the clubs’ larger shows.

“We all know kids with disabilities and those affected by cancer, whether they show horses or are from the community,” said Hardcastle. “This is a great way for the association to show the community and horse world that APHA has a desire to help, is invested in the future of these programs and realizes the benefits these programs bring to those with disabilities.”

More about APHA

Currently, American Paint Horses are being registered at APHA’s Fort Worth, Texas, headquarters at a rate of more than 40,000 horses each year. APHA has registered more than 900,000 horses in 49 nations and territories since it was founded 44 years ago, and now serves more than 100,000 active members around the world. Among its many activities, APHA works to preserve bloodlines and maintain the outstanding characteristics of the American Paint Horse breed.

For more information about APHA, contact the association at (817) 834-2742, or visit apha.com.

PHOTO: Up At Dawn carried an overjoyed rider during the challenged rider class at the Oklahoma Paint Horse Club’s Holiday Classic show in Oklahoma City. “Dawn,” no stranger to competition, received third place honors in Western pleasure at the 1993 World Championship Paint Horse Show. The mare, who lost one eye to cancer, is facing surgery in her other eye for cancer. Any money received will go toward “Dawn’s: care and helmet purchases. Photo Courtesy Holman Photography.


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