FORT WORTH, Texas — The Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo continues to provide a competitive venue for almost everyone. And a very competitive young lady named Olivia Mclean is very thankful for that.
Early Tuesday morning, Mclean and her parents found themselves in the stands of the John Justin Arena watching the first several heats of an equestrian competition. But the 9-year-old, sitting patiently in her wheelchair, wasn't just there to watch.
"You have your name in the brochure," her mom Maggie showed her. "Isn't that cool?"
Mclean was participant number 351. And, after some final instructions from her mom, she was there to compete.
"But what do we, and your coaches expect of you?" her mom asked.
"To do my best," the 9-year-old answered.
"And?" her mom asked again.
"To try your hardest," Mclean said.
"And?" her mom prodded one more time.
"Have fun!" Mclean answered.
"There you go. That's the most important," her mom replied.
Minutes later, Mclean was on a horse named Dottie. And, with her feet in the stirrups and her hands in control of the reins, she was the next one on the arena floor.
And next, they were handing her yet another blue ribbon.
"It's so empowering watching Olivia ride a horse," her mom said. "To see her do this, she's really defying the odds and paving her own way."
Mclean has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). She will always need her wheelchair. But with the help of the Dallas Equine therapy organization called Equest, and with events like this, the Chisolm Challenge, where people with physical or intellectual disabilities get a chance to compete, equestrians like her get their turn in the spotlight too.
On Monday, equestrians with disabilities competed in American Quarter Horse Association events. Tuesday and Wednesday, North Texas-area therapeutic riding centers, such as Equest, brought their riders to the John Justin Arena and Will Rogers Coliseum for a series of competitions.
"You get to experience what it would be like if you were actually walking rather than just pushing yourself around," Mclean told WFAA.
"To see her out there independently riding a horse is tremendous," her mom said.
"So if you can get up out of your chair and get on a horse and be in charge of that horse, how powerful is that and how much independence does that give you," said Joan Cutler, with Equest.
"They're all sweet and kind and they'll do anything to help me," Mclean said of the Equest staff, which serves more than 150 clients.
PTSD therapy for military and first responders is part of their program offerings too.
Winston Churchill gets the credit for saying that "no hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle."
Mclean is more direct.
"I just like it," she said.
And her smile, while in the saddle, said pretty much everything else anyone needed to hear.