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Exceptional Rodeo creates memories for special needs kids at NFR

Perhaps the best thing about the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is its sheer consistency. From the rodeo to all the ancillary events, you always know what to expect: an on-time great time.

The Exceptional Rodeo is, well, no exception. On Monday morning at the Wrangler Rodeo Arena, housed on the second floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center, a group of local special needs children got to try their hand at rodeo, just as children have every year since the Wrangler NFR arrived in Las Vegas in 1985.

And if you think these kids enjoy such a unique opportunity – which they most certainly do – you should see the NFR contestants and personnel who assist the youngsters in riding rocking bulls and horses, race them in stick-horse barrel racing and show them a thing or two about roping.

“I’m having fun,” rodeo clown John Harrison said, noting he’s worked the Wrangler NFR five times and made a point of helping out at the Exceptional Rodeo each time. “A lot of these kids don’t get outside much. Anytime you can touch kids’ lives like this, it means a lot to us. The smiles on these kids’ faces is what makes it all worthwhile.”

Harrison was paired with Tiana Turner, one of five youngsters from the Miley Achievement Center. Turner was at expert level in taming the rocking bull, but she was more about the stick horses.

“My favorite thing is the barrel racing,” Turner said.

Rebecca Call, one of Turner’s teachers at the Miley Center, said excursions such as this are a real treat for her students. It’s a tremendous educational and socialization opportunity.

“It’s good for them to do something hands-on, where the adults are helping them,” Call said. “This is something they’d never be able to do otherwise. These cowboys and cowgirls are fantastic. They’re working so well with the kids, being really kind and really patient.

“That’s what these kids need – patient, loving adults.”

That seems to be hard-wired into the cowboys and cowgirls, even those new to this specific Exceptional Rodeo, such as first-time Wrangler NFR qualifier Taylor Santos. The tie-down roper has taken part in Exceptional Rodeos at some of the PRCA circuit events throughout the season, so he was eager to be involved with this one, too.

“The kids have fun, and it’s a blast for us, too, to get out of the rat race of rodeo,” Santos said. “You show a kid who hasn’t been around rodeo how to rope or get on a horse, and it’s just neat to see. It slows you down a little bit, reminds you of what’s important: being a good person.”

Indeed, it takes a lot of good people to make this happen, and good corporate partners, too. NV Energy signed on to sponsor the Exceptional Rodeo in 2014 and continues to be a key part of the event’s success.

“It’s such a wonderful event,” said Michelle Follette, NV Energy’s vice president of customer operations. “The children are so appreciative. And these cowboys and cowgirls are some of their heroes. It’s a special way for the kids to interact with them.

“It’s one of my favorite events of the year. It’s the only chance I get to wear my cowboy boots and get a little dust on them. You can’t beat it.”

Barrel racer Amberleigh Moore wrapped up her fourth Exceptional Rodeo appearance by autographing cowboy hats for some of the children. No question she’ll be back every year she qualifies for the NFR.

“These kids, this is what it’s all about,” Moore said. “Giving back to the community and letting these kids enjoy it.”

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