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Special athletes get ride of a lifetime

Special Photo. Chris McClintock-Doyle rides Avatar during the Special Olympics of Georgia Horse Show in Perry from Nov. 13 through 15. McClintock-Doyle was one of the seven equestrians who attended the event with Parkwood Farms Therapy Center in Snellville.

Special Photo. Chris McClintock-Doyle rides Avatar during the Special Olympics of Georgia Horse Show in Perry from Nov. 13 through 15. McClintock-Doyle was one of the seven equestrians who attended the event with Parkwood Farms Therapy Center in Snellville.

SNELLVILLE -- Seven Gwinnett athletes riding three horses brought home 17 medals following the Special Olympics of Georgia Horse Show in Perry last weekend.

The team of special equestrians from Parkwood Farms Therapy Center in Snellville competed in four events.

Showmanship at halter involves the athletes presenting a horse for a judge's inspection. In English equitation, they demonstrate their skills on horseback, including controlling the horse, maneuvering around obstacles, stopping and starting and transitioning from one gate to another.

In futures/dressage, 20-year-old Brandon Carmack's favorite event, the athletes demonstrate their partnership with their horses through the execution of specific patterns. On trail, athletes guide their horses through a sort of obstacle course.

For 17-year-old Lena Busbee, trail is one of her favorite events and one in which she won a gold medal. Lena said she and the horse, Chief, had to weave through cones, walk over poles and cross a bridge.

"It's wonderful," John Busbee said of his daughter's equestrian activities. "Really the best thing that's ever happened to her. She's been participating with Parkwood Farms for four years now. This was her third Special Olympics and she loves it."

Brandon was participating in his fourth show and won gold in showmanship during the three-day event while riding his favorite horse, the solid black Avatar.

"That is the best horse I ever had," said Brandon, who had several fans, including his mom, grandparents and brother, cheering him on.

Parkwood Farms serves children and adults with special needs ranging from autism to fetal alcohol and Down syndrome to cerebral palsy with its equestrian-based and nontraditional therapies. Brandon visits the center once a week.

This is the sixth consecutive year Parkwood Farms has taken a team to the annual horse show.

"A lot of the kids, especially at the Special Olympics, they tend to blossom," said Marilyn Peterson, who founded Parkwood Farms in 2002. "They feel that they are competing as equals. They're doing something their brother can't do for a change. Usually it's the brother can do it and they can't do it."

In the Beginner II classes, Hunter Sorenson received three gold medals and a silver, Christopher McClintic-Doyle won a silver in futures and Julian Stamkee-Peterson took home a gold in futures.

In Intermediate I, Linda Valdez placed in all four events and Eric Ermutlu received a bronze in future.

Twenty volunteers accompanied the seven athletes on the three-day trip. Volunteers practice with athletes and, in most cases, walk with the riders during competitions. Some of the athletes require three volunteers to be present during each ride. The volunteers also care for horses, drive trailers and provide logistical support.

"We're grateful for the Georgia Special Olympics organization, their fundraising and their volunteers, but we could not field a team from Gwinnett each year without our own homegrown volunteers, who work directly with our athletes and our horses," Peterson said. "The parents of our special athletes appreciate how much these volunteers enrich the children's lives both at Special Olympics and during their therapeutic riding sessions at Parkwood Farms."