FORT WORTH -- When the 121st Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo officially kicks off on Friday, the real show this year may have already come and gone.

More than 200 horseback riders with special needs are competing in the Chisholm Challenge early this week.

It's become a must-do event for families like the Chavez clan from Mansfield. They don't always have it so easy day to day.

"Autism can be isolating," said mother Page Chavez. "This allows him to communicate with people. It's helped his physical strength and balance."

The mother is talking about her 11-year-old son, Jacob.

A rider for seven years now, Jacob displayed his horsemanship skills with precision on Tuesday afternoon.

Judged on things like posture, the young man took home a second place ribbon in the Western Equitation event after performing with his gelding named Gemini.

"Giddy up, walk on and whoa," are the commands Jacob says he uses the most.

The competition is now in its' 14th year. Although stock show staff help coordinate and facilitate the event at John Justin Arena, it's mostly run by 13 therapeutic horseback organizations from North Texas.

At age 32, Brodie Sharp has participated in four different challenges through the Stars and Strides group out of Weatherford.

Although he's usually on his wheelchair, he says the freedom of being on his Chestnut-colored gelding Sparky is something he can't find anywhere else.

Tuesday was his first competition where he rode with little to no outside help.

"I've been working really, really hard to get to that point," Sharp said.

He says he shares a special bond with the horse, too.

"I can do something and he knows what I mean," Sharp said.

For more information on the challenge, including how to help or participate, visit