Roping, horse and bull riding, goat-tying and stick horse barrel races brought smiles to the faces of some special needs children who took part in the 16th annual Happy Hearts Rodeo Monday evening.
The event, staged by Horses with H.E.A.R.T., a therapeutic riding program, took place before the Prescott Frontier Days "World's Oldest Rodeo" began. About 33 volunteers helped 25 participants feel like real cowboys and cowgirls.
Micha Conwell, 9, enjoyed roping but waited anxiously to ride a horse.
"I like Midnight," she said of her favorite steed.
"I love that they include everybody no matter what their special needs are," said Chandra Conwell, her mom. "The kids get to experience something they wouldn't ordinarily get to."
Grace Woodard, 10, pronounced bull riding, "Good."
"She's gotten braver," said her mother, Carol Woodard. "She didn't use to do any of this by herself."
Ryan Tardibuono, 10, had a look of pure pride as he sat on his mount, Popcorn, wearing a black cowboy hat. Afterward, smiling broadly, he called the ride "awesome fun."
Trudy Chapman-Radley, the director, was all smiles herself as she announced the organization had signed a settlement agreement on a new home on Route 89 in Chino Valley Monday.
"We're excited," Chapman-Radley said. "We're going to be the gateway to Chino Valley." She hopes the group can move in to the site near the airport by the end of the year after they get approvals from the town and improvements to the more than 5-acre property are completed. Chapman-Radley said they're seeking help with the renovations and move.
Now the group is the guest of a ranch in Chino Valley.
The nonprofit organization paid about $250,000 for the site, said Arlene Allen, a spokeswoman, who called it an "amazing location." The charity, which provides 235 disabled people with rides in small groups each year, had looked for land to buy for about three years. Opposition from neighbors shot down an attempt by the group to buy about 10 acres in Coyote Springs earlier this year.
The specially trained horses led by volunteers walked carefully around the rodeo ring as their young riders, wearing helmets or cowboy hats, sat astride. Others, led by the Prescott Frontier Days rodeo queen and her court, tied a tail on a goat or rode stick horses in a barrel race. Others tried their hand at twirling a lasso to rope a "steer."
Bob Wilson, president of Horses with H.E.A.R.T. said the rodeo is always exciting.
"We don't change their lives," Wilson said. "They change our lives. These individuals change your life." He thanked the Rodeo for hosting their group.
Jim Radley, Trudy's husband and a volunteer, added, "It's an honor to come here and do this."
To volunteer contact Horses with H.E.A.R.T. at (928) 533-9178.