Special Olympics State Equestrian Show reminder of what competition 'should be about'

Sep. 26—No words were necessary.

Nathan Creech's big smile was all that anyone needed to see to realize that he was having a very good time Sunday.

The 25-year-Aiken resident was a competitor in the Special Olympics South Carolina State Equestrian Show at the Aiken Horse Park Foundation's Bruce's Field.

After Creech earned blue ribbons in working trail and equitation classes, he proudly handed them off temporarily to Horse Park Foundation President Jack Wetzel, who praised the athlete for his success.

Then Creech posed alone for photos with his prizes on the State Equestrian Show's second and final day.

"It gives him confidence, and it helps build up his core muscles," said Creech's mother, Penny Crider, of her son's involvement in horseback riding. "Even though he graduated from high school when he was 21, he's still continuing to learn. We all need to continue to learn, as we get older. We shouldn't ever stop learning."

The State Equestrian Show began Saturday with the opening ceremony and the pole bending competition.

Approximately 40 people with special needs participated, and they represented six of the 16 South Carolina Special Olympics areas.

Aiken, Edgefield and Saluda counties are in Area 15.

There also were around 60 certified coaches and volunteers at Bruce's Field.

"All classes were offered in Western and English," said Nicole Pioli, executive director of Great Oak Equine Assisted Programs, which has a facility in Aiken.

She also is on the development team for South Carolina Special Olympics equestrian activities.

"The entire experience is something that we call 'The Happiest Horse Show on Earth,'" said Pioli of the State Equestrian Show. "It's just a privilege to be a part of this with our Area 15 athletes and Great Oak. It's also completely humbling because it is a reminder of what competition is and should be about."

Cheridan Bump, a volunteer at Great Oak, helped out during the State Equestrian Show.

"I enjoy doing it because I get to watch so many kids doing so well and watch how happy they are," she said.

In addition, Bump mentioned one of the students she works with at Great Oak.

"He has social anxiety, and it (horseback riding) is making him talk and it's making him happier," she said. "It's like, 'Oh my goodness.' It's great."

For Gail King, a Great Oak supporter, watching riders participate in programs there is an emotional experience.

Her feelings also were running high during the State Equestrian Show.

"The expression of joy that comes onto their faces makes you want to cry. It really does," she said.

Added Wetzel, a major donor to Great Oak, "Every community should have a therapeutic riding program."

For more information about the Special Olympics South Carolina, visit so-sc.org.

For more information about Great Oak, visit greatoakeap.org or call 803-226-0056.