Justin wears a baseball cap nearly every day. The same one that says "Grandpa's Lil' Fishing Buddy". He loves his hat, and it's difficult for him to give it up, but for one day he traded it for a cowboy hat. Justin was given the chance to be in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo's Lil' Rustler Rodeo. It's a special program that allows children with illnesses and special needs the chance to get in on the fun.
The Down Syndrome Assoc. of Houston gets a few tickets every year to this event and Justin was chosen to participate. I was a little worried because it's loud and there is lots of commotion, and we were told to plan to leave our child with their cowboy friend (a real Texas Ranger, and not the baseball variety!) Justin can sometimes go either way, but this night, he did great! He was so excited to be a cowboy, he couldn't even say it without jumping up and down! They outfitted every child with a t-shirt and a cowboy hat (complete with a sticker with his name right on the front; they must have learned a thing or two in the 22 years of doing this!)
Here's Justin with his Ranger
He even got a number on his back, just like the real cowboys. Justin was number 112. I was alone with both boys at this time, so I had to leave to be with Travis and watch from the stands. I kept a close eye to make sure he didn't get too scared, and we made the all-important potty pit stop before we checked in.
The announcer started off really loud and I was praying hard that Justin wouldn't pay any attention to it. I had lots of other people praying too! Fortunately, someone turned down the volume and it was much better.
When they started, the pairs walked out and each headed for a starting event. Justin started with the bucking bronc ride (a saddled see-saw with assistants to create the bucking movement). I quickly learned that the down side of the hats and t-shirts was that everyone looked alike! It was difficult to find Justin, and because he's so short, he got lost in the sea of taller cowboy-hatted men. I focused on Justin's Ranger and found the distinctive characteristics of his vest and hat, and that helped a bit. You can kind of see Justin in the purple shirt behind the long horns. He even got his hand up waving around to do it right!
Justin's favorite thing was getting to ride the horse. Each of the kids was able to take a ride around the arena. There was a volunteer leading the horse, plus the Ranger on one side and another volunteer on the other side. I think that's the only way I would ever ride a horse! I was glad to see Justin enjoyed this because there are several equestrian therapy opportunities and I wasn't sure how Justin would respond. Now I know it's a winner!
They took pictures of each pair and printed out 2 copies, one for Justin and one for his Ranger.
From the stands, it really looked like Justin enjoyed the "calf" roping the best. It was a bale of hay with a plastic head, but anytime I say that it was hay Justin corrects me and says it was a cow. I love that! Justin really got into it and he pulled with all his might! He got lots of kudos and we could see he was very proud of himself. I think this is my favorite picture, with his huge hat and number on his back. He looks so little, but he is full of might.
And we couldn't really see what was happening but somehow Justin started pulling again, and this time he got serious! By this time Randy had arrived and he said that he thought Justin even moved the bale of hay.
I bet he could!
There were a few more small activities, like riding on a stick horse and playing horse shoes, but the arena was really full of people and it was difficult to get pictures of everything. I think that helped put Justin at ease. He wasn't so much the focus of attention, so he could do his thing without a lot of distractions.
At the end Justin and his Ranger went and picked up their pictures and Justin signed one and gave it to his Ranger and he signed one for Justin. It was sweet! It was close to where I was in the stands so I leaned over the railing and offered my best teacher encouragement to get Justin to write his name legibly. We are really working on that so I wanted to see how he would do in a real world situation. Some lines on the paper would have been nice... Helpful for writing but not pretty to see, I know!
Then the part that Justin was super excited about: Getting a trophy and other treats. I have to say how much I love that Justin got a trophy. There are so few trophies Justin can legitimately earn and this is one that truly means something special. The ladies were all over him telling him how well he did and all about his prizes. Justin loves his trophy and his belt buckle, and he's been showing it off to everyone who will look and listen. And inside the backpack he got there was a rope so he's been roping the banister, his stuffed animals, even Alaina, if she will stay still long enough. (Not often...)
Justin's grin was huge and very sincere. He's been asking to go back and be a cowboy again. He's good at saying "Yee-haw" and throwing his hat in the air. Fortunately he hasn't asked me to attach his buckle to his belt, since I am not sure how I would do that. I am glad Justin made some special memories, even if he is back to his fishing hat for everyday wear.