OGDEN — Richard Balkcom grabbed on to the bull with both hands. He had done this once before, and he was ready.
The bull kicked front and back while the 5-year-old boy held on as he went for the ride. First he let go with one hand, then ventured both, waving them in the air.
“High-five man,” a volunteer cowboy said, clapping one of his hands against Richard’s as the boy dismounted, all smiles.
The bull isn’t real, it’s just a wooden seesaw made to look like one. The volunteer rocks it back and forth to simulate a ride. But for Richard, it’s his favorite part of a rodeo that gives special-needs children like him a chance to get out and have fun during Pioneer Days.
Richard has a cleft lip and pallet, and his left hand is deformed. He’s had eight major surgeries so far. But after coming to the rodeo for the first time last year, his mind has instead been on riding the bull again, his mother Julie Balkcom said.
Richard was one of at least 39 children who came out Tuesday afternoon. At least 85 volunteers aided them through Lorin Farr Park from one activity to another, including rodeo clowns, lasso throwing and spending time with Sundance, Ogden’s Dancing Horse.
The chance to ride a horse in a circuit around the park proved a favorite for a lot of children. Volunteers from Freedom Riders, an equestrian program specifically for physically disabled children, helped the young cowboys and cowgirls onto the animal and gently guided the horse on a trot through the grass.
For some, taking a trip on horseback is old hat. But for 9-year-old Alexis Barnsom, it was a momentous first meeting.
Alexis, who has a rare genetic disorder that affects development, used to be afraid of horses, her mother Debra Barnsom said, but at her first time at the rodeo, riding them was easily her favorite part.
Every child also got to leave with a Pioneer Days rodeo trophy, which for 9-year-old Hope Rowley is a big deal.
“At her age … among her friends a trophy is a coveted reward,” her mother, Anna-Marie Rowley, said. Hope uses a type of walker to get around because she has a rare deformation in her brain, her mother explained.
Now in her fifth year attending the rodeo, Hope has a whole display of trophies at home that she and her friends can admire, her mother said.
But the part of the rodeo Hope looks forward to the most isn’t the award — it’s the face painting. It’s all she talks about all year.
On Tuesday, she got a pink and purple butterfly pattern on her face before going to pet a baby goat.
“It’s like Billy Goats Gruff,” she said excitedly to a volunteer Whoopie Girl helping her around. And after petting the goat, Hope rode a horse around the park.
With all of the activities the rodeo offers, Anna-Marie Rowley said, she has never seen an opportunity like this specifically for special-needs kids.