By JimiBeth Myers
Behind the Scenes
Hearts Beam as Contestants Show Special Needs Kids the Rodeo Ropes
A combination of NFR contestants, rodeo queens, NFR bull fighters and rodeo clowns come together to help roughly 30 Las Vegas area special needs kids at the “Exceptional Rodeo” held at Cowboy Christmas at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The kids are partnered with a cowgirl or cowboy who takes them through a variety of rodeo events from roping to riding.
The Exceptional Rodeo is held in conjunction with the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. It is an event that has brought rodeo contestants and special needs children together for the past 35 years.
It is a special effort for NFR contestants to take an hour out of their busy schedules to go through modified rodeo events with the kids, but it is well worth it.
“Last year was my first year to come to the Exceptional Rodeo and the joy that it brought to my heart to see these kids smile, and this is actually making their dreams come true if we think about it, so that just touches my heart, and I wouldn’t miss this for nothing. My schedule is crazy, but I will make this.” says 2-time NFR Qualifier Stevi Hillman.
Nellie Miller shares Stevi’s sentiment that this event gives her as much as she gives it. “We scheduled our schedule around the Exceptional Rodeo so we could be here for the kids because they just love it. It's kind of nice to see that. They are so happy to be here and it brings you back down to what’s important.
Barrel Racer Amber Moore says that she is happy to be at the Exceptional Rodeo because, “its a way to give back to the community and get out here for these kids.
Organizer Ruth Dismuke-Blakely started the Exceptional Rodeo with the idea that it would be a way for rodeo contestants to give back to local communities. Outside the arena Ruth is a speech/language pathologist. The Exceptional Rodeo is designed to give special needs children a taste of what the rodeo events are like while keeping the safety and well-being of the children in mind. After 35 years at the helm, Ruth is retiring from organizing the Exceptional Rodeo this year.
“Everyone here is a winner,” Dismuke said. “We’ve had so many great stories come out of Exceptional Rodeo. It’s amazing to see the smiles on the participants faces, but the real reward is often to the contestants.”
Children arrived at the Wrangler Arena at Cowboy Christmas ready to get on the dirt and be cowboys and cowgirls. When they get to the rodeo arena at Cowboy Christmas hosted at the Las Vegas Convention Center they get outfitted with a t-shirt and a cowboy hat. They are then paired with an NFR contestant, bullfighter, clown or rodeo queen.
After they get to ride a bucking horse, rope a steer, run barrels and steer wrestle on stuffed animals serving as their rodeo stock they get trophies to commemorate their participation in the event.