Yureidy Ladina reached down to pet the Irish wolfhound sitting patiently at her feet.
“She’s nice and soft and cute,” the Aikin Elementary School special needs student said.
Across the ring, her classmates worked on their roping with James Wright and Spencer Murray.
“All right! You got him!” Murray told one the students when his lasso managed to wrap around the cattle dummies in the show ring at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds.
The students were there Friday morning as part of the Exceptional Rodeo, hosted by the Paris Rodeo Association, an annual event for special needs students in the Red River Valley. They rode horses with volunteers steadying the students on either side, pet goats and rabbits, practiced their roping skills and ate lunch.
Nancy Baker, a member of the association, said she has helped coordinate the Exceptional Rodeo for the past 15 years.
“This year we’re planning on 234 students, and that’s not including support staff,” she said.
Other volunteers from the association were in the exhibit room across from the ring setting up a hot dog lunch for the students after they were done roping and riding.
“We packed so many hot dogs into buns last night,” Nelda Mulling said, adding it wasn’t just Lamar County students attending, but some from Cooper, Bonham and Honey Grove as well. “It makes you feel good to see them come out for stuff like this.”
Wright, over at his roping station, agreed with the sentiment.
“I think if everybody in the world had their spirit and enthusiasm, we’d be a lot better off,” he said. “I wish we did this more than once a year.”
Wright said this is his first year helping with the rodeo, though he did help with the Special Olympics when he was in high school. He said he’s happy to do this because there’s many everyday activities most people do without thinking that special needs children can’t.
“What they do, they work for it,” he said.
His roping partner, Murray, agreed.
“Things that we take for granted, these kids are enthusiastic about,” Murray said. “They’re all on cloud nine. It brings joy to your heart.”
Also at the rodeo, volunteers from Baby Gunn’s Animal Rescue brought their dogs for the students to pet in the ring. And, Mark and Julie Gray brought goats and rabbits for them to interact with.
“The kids seem to love it,” Julie Gray said.