ENID, Okla. — The team of six at Bennie's Barn has been training for months already, horse and rider readying for the Oklahoma Special Olympic equestrian competition in Stillwater on Nov. 9.
Last year, the Enid nonprofit equine therapy center swept with a crew of eight, taking home all gold and one silver medal, according to Bennie's Barn founder Chip Baker.
He hopes their performances in the Special Olympics' equestrian events will be just as successful this year, the fourth for Bennie's Barn.
These return trips to the Special Olympics are made possible through donations, Baker said, and Bennie's Barn still is collecting. Money given helps cover the cost of hotel stays, uniforms, a team dinner and more.
"Determination and practice" account for all the awards earned, Baker said, it's pretty simple.
For the 85 special needs clients receiving therapy at the ranch, ages vary, disabilities vary, but determination is a common trait.
"The things we do at our facility, we never say, 'I can't,'" Baker said. "We don't believe in that."
While not all clients are so interested in competition, all are welcome on the team, Baker said.
Among the six current members, three have been on board since Bennie's Barn first entered the Special Olympics four years ago.
Ages on the team range from 6 to 18. Their backgrounds and personal challenges are unique. One is autistic, another has spina bifida, a third has fetal alcohol syndrome. There's plenty of difference between them but they choose to look past it.
"They all know there's something special about themselves," Baker said. "But they don't see each other as different, they just see each other as friends. They don't put that stigma on each other, and it's beautiful to watch."
The team has trained for four events in the equestrian competition: barrel racing, poles, western trail and showmanship.
One member competing in showmanship can't walk without the help of crutches, or at least can't yet. Despite how difficult it is to move, she aims to walk side by side with her horse before the crowd and the judges.
"It's crazy the drive that these kids have and the purpose that they have," Baker said. "I'm glad it gets recognized that they are tough, they are special, they are somebody that we love, and we want to show off all they can do."
Bennie's Barn is taking donations to help fund the team and their trip to the Special Olympics. To donate, go to benniesbarn.com/donate.
Besides funding, morale support always is appreciated by the athletes.
"Come enjoy it, come see it, come watch it, come support your Enid team in Stillwater and show these kids the love," Baker said. "Show them that Enid is behind them."