Horses were the focus of attention for many on the first weekend in May as the fanfare of the Kentucky Derby spread throughout the nation.
In South Carolina, an important event at Lander University’s Equestrian Center featured more than 40 athletes and horses seeking their own moments of glory and achievement.
Among the competitors at the 2023 Special Olympics South Carolina Equestrian Games was Morgan Bates, of Anderson, and Abigail, her Tennessee Walking Horse that possessed a gleaming black coat and sweet demeanor.
The event, where Morgan earned ribbons in the pole bending, trail competition and equitation divisions, was a family affair as her parents, Randy and Yvette Bates, stood close by.
For Morgan, the decision to be part of the competition was easy. “It’s fun,” she said. “I love riding my horse.”
Yvette Bates said that Morgan, who has been riding horses since the age of five, enjoys many Special Olympics activities. “The events are wonderful opportunities to build self-esteem, and Morgan has made many friends,” she said. “We enjoy these competitions as a family.”
Morgan gave credit to Abigail for helping her win a belt buckle as a prize in one of their competitions. “Abigail won it for me,” she said.
The Equestrian Games in Greenwood exceeded the expectations of Kelly Garrick, the senior director of sports and competition for Special Olympics South Carolina. “I am very happy to be here. The facility is great, and the staff and community have been very supportive to make sure our families and riders feel welcome.”
The athletes represented seven of the Special Olympics’ 16 districts in South Carolina, Garrick said. “This has been a very good experience for us, and we hope to be back.”
For Morgan, the opportunity to be with other athletes continues as she heads to the Special Olympics Summer Games in Columbia for a swimming competition. “That will be more fun,” Morgan said.
Until then, the family will be at home where, Morgan said, Abigail would be getting a treat for her success. “She’ll have an apple and a banana. And she gets to rest.”Visit lander.edu/photos to view pictures from the Special Olympics’ Equestrian Games at the Burton Center in Greenwood.