They came from Great Britain, Bahrain, France, Egypt, and the United States, more than 120 athletes competing in Equestrian competition as part of the Special Olympics World Games. With ten team members, it's one of the largest U.S. delegations. The young men and women were in Burbank Monday at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, getting ''paired'' with the horses they'll ride, horses donated through private organizations that support the sport and the Special Olympics.
I spent some time with a tall, thin 21-year-old, even taller as he sat up straight practicing his ''equitation'' moves for the competition that begins Wednesday. Robert Seignious, who works in a South Carolina movie theatre, began riding about seven years ago, and says riding "makes me happy. I love to compete and win medals".
You often hear how horses, working in effect at therapy animals, can develop a bond with a rider and pull someone out of their shell. These competitors, many of whom have a hard time making connections with people, don't have that problem with a horse. It seems there's a quick and easy bond; they're in tune with each other in a short time. Samuel Oliver of Great Britain, just 17, told me the horse ''becomes your friend''. Veteran trainer Susan Pruitt says ''it's very real''. The horse senses someone that trusts them, and the rider ''blossoms'' feeling the energy of a live animal beneath them. It's better than sitting ''on a ball in a therapy room''. No doubt.