Friday, May 25, 2018
News Roundup

Horses for Handicapped hosts Special Olympics equestrian competition

SEMINOLE — Mary Urquhart was at the barn before sunrise. Getting up early to feed the horses is nothing unusual for the 80-year-old, but Saturday was special.

Twenty-three disabled athletes were due by 8:30 for the Special Olympics Florida Area 6 Equestrian Competition.

As the event got under way, sunlight filtered through the pines, lighting athletes' faces as they stepped or were helped into the saddle.

Riders' disabilities and abilities dictate whether they need a person called a side-walker to walk alongside the horse to keep riders safely in the saddle. Some riders lack muscle control. One was blind.

Each horse also is led by a horse handler, usually a young volunteer from 4-H, Girl Scouts or local high schools.

According to Urquhart, director of the Pinellas Kiwanis Horses for Handicapped riding program, handlers must not interfere with the directions given by the rider.

Jenny Mazgaj understands what goes on behind the scenes with the horses. She helps Urquhart daily at the barn, writes the group's newsletter, maintains the website and sits on the board.

"I'm here as a support team for my two disabled daughters, Nina and Katie," said Mazgaj, of Seminole. "The twins have participated as disabled riders since 2005."

Riders were judged on equitation (riding style), postures and control of the horse as they walked around a riding ring. Then it was on to an obstacle trail with eight challenges, including barrel jumping for more independent riders.

The regional leads to the state competition at the State Fairgrounds in May.

"We sent eight riders last year,'' Urquhart said. This year's number won't be decided until slots are allotted according to a lottery in a few weeks.

St. Petersburg resident Steve Colbert's daughter, Madeline, won in equitation and was second in trail.

"We've seen such a great improvement in her strength and balance," Colbert said. "She thrives on the horses and the therapy."

Ryan Feeley, 16, waited to compete in pole bending, where horse and rider weave in and around set poles.

"When he started 12 years ago, his feet couldn't reach the stirrups," said his mother, Carol. "Now he'll ride independently. The program's gotten him past his sensory integration issues. It used to be he couldn't walk on shiny floors or enter elevators. He thought he'd fall through the cracks."

Equine therapy has been proven to help with sensory, motor, physical and neurological issues.

John and Margo Evans of Clearwater smiled as their son Chris held tightly to his blue ribbons.

"One of the hardest parts (of the competition) is removing an object from the mailbox and riding over to put it in another," said Urquhart. "That and placing rings on poles. In both they have to control their hands and get the horse close."

Urquhart has overseen three Special Olympics regional competitions, but has directed the Kiwanis Horses for Handicapped program since its inception more than 32 years ago. It is Pinellas County's oldest free riding program for disabled adults and children.

The Special Olympics regional competition brought athletes from as far away as Sumter County.

"I personally find this one impressive event — watching how our athletes not only conduct themselves while riding, but watching how they handle the horses," said David R. Haines, county coordinator for Special Olympics-Pinellas County. "This is such a different sport as opposed to, say, soccer or basketball, because there is so much more to be aware of when you place our athletes on top of 2,000-plus pounds of animal."

"This is a big event for all of us," Mazgaj said. "We prepare our riders all year long, training them to be comfortable first by brushing a horse. ... They learn how to work with a horse and ride."

Saturday, as she has in the past, Urquhart watched the fruits of her and so many volunteers' labor blossom as riders mounted horses, stronger and more confident than when they brushed their first pony.

"Just to see the transformation in my son is amazing," Dan Feeley said. "When Ryan got here he couldn't get on a pony. Now he rides with no lead walker. All by himself. He's more confident. This program and competition make kids proud."

Comments
Two accused of turning St. Petersburg test drive into carjacking

Two accused of turning St. Petersburg test drive into carjacking

MADEIRA BEACH ó Two men were arrested Thursday after a carjacking during a test drive led to a crash on Gulf Boulevard less than an hour later, according to the Pinellas County Sheriffís Office. According to deputies, 30-year-old Robert Gajate went t...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
Potential tropical system still on pace to drench Tampa Bay

Potential tropical system still on pace to drench Tampa Bay

TAMPAó Memorial Day weekend plans may have to move indoors this year.RELATED: Sunset Music Festival, more outdoor concerts could be soaked by weekend rainForecasters with the National Weather Service in Ruskin say a low-pressure system in the Caribbe...
Updated: 30 minutes ago
Indianapolis 500: How Danica Patrick changed racing

Indianapolis 500: How Danica Patrick changed racing

Tampa's Carlie Yent was at a racing banquet a few years ago when someone asked her to name the driver who influenced her the most.The answer was easy and obvious: Danica Patrick."She was someone I could look up to," Yent said, "and she was the most i...
Updated: 1 hour ago
After Danica Patrick, why arenít there more women in auto racing?

After Danica Patrick, why arenít there more women in auto racing?

If you assumed Danica Patrick's success would lead to a tidal wave of female drivers into racing's top series, you're not alone."I kind of thought the Danica thing would bring out a lot of people, honestly," said Tampa's Megan Rae Meyer, a 21-year-ol...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Daystarter: Latest on potential tropical system; taking action along dangerous Bayshore Boulevard; Denis Philips talks hurricanes and beer; Memorial Day things to do

The Daystarter: Latest on potential tropical system; taking action along dangerous Bayshore Boulevard; Denis Philips talks hurricanes and beer; Memorial Day things to do

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.ē Todayís forecast calls for warm and humid weather up until lunch time. Then in the late afternoon thereís an up to 80 percent chance of thundershowers and the rain wonít let up until ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Denis Phillips, hurricane season guru, talks his signature beer, suspenders and Rule #7

Denis Phillips, hurricane season guru, talks his signature beer, suspenders and Rule #7

SAFETY HARBOR ó Denis Phillips cracks a pop-top and pulls a can that looks a lot like him to his lips."Itís got that citrusy feel to it," he says. "Which is a Florida thing. Thatís not bad." Indeed, thereís a grapefruit finish to Rule #7 Hurricane Sa...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Felled by fire, popular tower at Wall Springs Park to reopen soon

Felled by fire, popular tower at Wall Springs Park to reopen soon

PALM HARBOR ó The long, strange saga of the Wall Springs Park observation tower is finally coming to a close as county officials hope the rebuilt structure, along with refurbished decking leading up to it, will be open in time for the Fourth of July....
Updated: 3 hours ago
Carlton: Senseless death on a street like no other

Carlton: Senseless death on a street like no other

On a Wednesday morning, a mother and her little girl, not quite 2, went for a stroll along one of Tampaís prettiest streets.It was nearly lunchtime when they were crossing back over Bayshore Boulevard, headed to the home nearby where they were stayin...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Calvary Christianís record win streak ends in state final

Calvary Christianís record win streak ends in state final

FORT MYERS — One of the most impressive streaks in high school baseball came to an end early Friday morning.Calvary Christian lost the Class 4A state championship 5-1 to Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian at Hammond Stadium in a game that ended ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
National NAACP leader to speak at Clearwater banquet

National NAACP leader to speak at Clearwater banquet

CLEARWATER ó The NAACP Clearwater Upper Pinellas branch will have a heavy hitting guest for its 44th annual Freedom Fund Banquet on June 1. National NAACP President Derrick Johnson will be the keynote speaker at the fundraiser, which will be held at ...
Published: 05/25/18