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Exceptional Needs Rodeo brings out best in the sport
Rodeo - 2019 Turquoise Rodeo Circuit

Team Roper Chase Massengill (right) helps Sarah (center) onto a bucking-bronco apparatus during the Exceptional Needs Rodeo as part of the 2019 Turquoise Rodeo Circuit on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, at the Findlay Toyota Center in Prescott Valley. (Doug Cook/Courier)

Team Roper Chase Massengill (right) helps Sarah (center) onto a bucking-bronco apparatus during the Exceptional Needs Rodeo as part of the 2019 Turquoise Rodeo Circuit on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, at the Findlay Toyota Center in Prescott Valley. (Doug Cook/Courier)

You could see it in their eyes.

Of the 35 people who participated in the Turquoise Circuit Finals’ first Exceptional Needs Rodeo Saturday morning, Oct. 5, at Findlay Toyota Center in Prescott Valley, they all had that look – you know, the one you get when you really feel alive.

The Turquoise Circuit invited families from the special needs community to attend the rodeo, which was set up in stations on the arena’s dirt-covered floor. Events included roping, riding a manual mechanical horse, barrel racing on stick horses and petting miniature horses.

This Exceptional Needs Rodeo was held in conjunction with the third annual Turquoise Circuit Finals Rodeo on Oct. 4 and 5.

Each year, the Circuit Finals features several of the best rodeo athletes from Arizona and New Mexico. They compete to qualify in the roughstock and timed events for the National Circuit Finals Rodeo April 2-5, 2020, in Kissimmee, Florida.

Tel Honeycutt of Alamosa, Colorado, who worked as a pick-up man for the bareback riders at the Circuit Finals this weekend, volunteered to help Exceptional Needs Rodeo participants try their hand at roping. His uncle had some of his bulls and horses entered in the Circuit Finals.

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Tallen Simpson (right) with Cole Ludwig during the Exceptional Needs Rodeo as part of the 2019 Turquoise Rodeo Circuit on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, at the Findlay Toyota Center in Prescott Valley. (Doug Cook/Courier)

“It’s a very small thing that I can do,” said Honeycutt, 28, who works anywhere from 30 to 45 rodeos per year. “These kids are a blessing. I’m blessed in other ways.”

Rainbow Acres, a Camp Verde-based ranch-style community for those with developmental disabilities, brought at least 15 of their “ranchers” to the Exceptional Needs Rodeo. Lisa Page, an animal science educator at Rainbow Acres, said a lot of her ranchers ride horses.

“They love to interact with the animals,” Page added.

Ranch staffers tend to clients with Down syndrome, autism and intellect disabilities.

Daniel, who’s Rainbow Acres’ barn manager, as well as Kelly, Michael and Lori, who works in the ranch’s kitchen, were among Saturday’s participants. (Their last names were left out of this story for privacy concerns.)

Deanna Shaw, a certified caregiver at Rainbow Acres, said she and her fellow staffers have built special relationships with their clients through the years.

“To come here, it’s a special time,” Shaw said. “I guarantee this [rodeo] will be talked about for months. It’s a very remarkable time for them.”

For an adult client named Sarah, she hadn’t ridden on a hand-cranked mechanical horse until Saturday. Chase Massengill, a professional team roper from Santa Fe, New Mexico, volunteered to help her and others ride the mechanical horse.

“I’ve got people in my life with Down syndrome, and they are some of the most decent people,” Massengill said. “This [rodeo] is such a neat deal. The simplest things bring them so much joy. They just want to have a good time.”

Breezy Brock, a Miss Turquoise Circuit contestant who’s a sophomore pre-med student at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, also volunteered on Saturday. She roped in high school in Lake Havasu and showed Rainbow Acres ranchers some of the ins and outs.

“Seeing their smiles, it’s really contagious,” Brock said. “This is a really great opportunity. The exceptional rodeo has been incredible.”

ABOUT EXCEPTIONAL NEEDS RODEO

The Exceptional Needs Rodeo program allows exceptional people of all ages to take part in rodeo-themed games and activities.

With help from professional cowboys and cowgirls and rodeo royalty, each participant receives encouragement and assistance.

At the end of Saturday’s 2-1/2-hour event, Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) belt buckles were distributed to participants during an awards ceremony.

Julie Jutten of Colorado Springs, Colorado-based Jutten Marketing & Events, handled media relations for the Turquoise Circuit Finals and the Exceptional Needs Rodeo.

She said a Turquoise Circuit board that had new members in 2019 provided the impetus for bringing the Exceptional Needs Rodeo to Prescott Valley because they “wanted to invest in the community” and they were “not here to just put on a rodeo.”

“The community has been really supportive of the event,” Jutten added.

Doug Cook is a reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email him at dcook@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.

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