A rodeo was held this weekend in Dripping Springs for children of all abilities. All riders are on horses, showing the community the miracles that can come from this form of therapy.
10-year-old Nico is riding in the RED Arena Round-Up for the second year in a row. He has Down syndrome and is non-verbal but horse therapy has been life-changing for him and his family.
"I would pick him up at school to go to horse therapy and his teachers would bring him to the office and we would go to horse therapy. But, one particular day, he said the word 'Horse.' He knew where we were leaving school to go to and he said the word 'Horse.' So we have been thrilled ever since and the words just keep coming," says Veronica Barillas, Nico's mother.
Nico has been practicing for weeks for this rodeo, with his horse Tiny T. With the help of therapists and an iPad he is able to communicate.
"He can tell us what he wants to do, where he wants to go. Like out here, he always had to hit the 'go' button in order for him to walk," says Suzanne Braden, special education teacher.
His family, including his two younger brothers, cheered him on along the sidelines.
"To be parents of a special needs child that doesn't speak, we've employed so many different forms of communication: from sign language, to iPad applications, to all different sorts of methods and methodologies and things to try to see if we can encourage that. But, none of them could compare to a horse. That feeling that they get, that empowerment, that transformation that occurs with these children once they get on top of a horse," says Marty Barillas, Nico's father.
Riders of all ability levels compete in fun horse events, winning ribbons and trophies. For their families, the biggest win is the personal accomplishment.
"It's by far the most significant breakthrough that we've had in his development in terms of speech therapy," says Barillas.