Stephanie Wilkerson of Davidson County truly knows what it means to get back on the horse after a setback. Though she’s only been competing in equestrian with Special Olympics for two years, Wilkerson is no stranger to the sport. For about nine years, Wilkerson took private lessons until one day her horse was spooked during a practice. The next thing Wilkerson knew she was on the ground with a compound fracture in her right arm.
After five surgeries, Wilkerson was nervous about riding again, though she was still passionate about horses. While she healed, Special Olympics Davidson County started offering equestrian as a Special Olympics sport. Linda Garwood and her daughter, Lynn, began coaching equestrian and grew the program each year. When Wilkerson heard about the Special Olympics program, she visited the Garwood farm to learn more about the program.
“Watching the Garwoods train with the athletes and seeing how they were with the horses made me want to try again,” explains Wilkerson.
Once Wilkerson got back on a horse, she knew she could do it. With Garwood’s encouragement, Wilkerson regained her confidence and her passion for horses grew even stronger. When Wilkerson decided to switch from the English riding style to the Western riding style, Garwood put all her effort into helping Wilkerson learn the new techniques.
“Linda is fun and she really cares about the athletes,” Wilkerson says.
Over the past 20 years, Garwood has also gotten her son, Sam, and granddaughter, Cassidy, involved with Davidson County’s equestrian team. Cassidy not only helps with training, but is a Unified Partner and competed at the 2016 Equestrian Tournament, as well.
“It’s much more than the weeks of practice, or a weekend at the statewide Equestrian Tournament,” says Cassidy. “The athletes I work with have taught me and changed me.”
By the end of the 2016 Equestrian Tournament, the Davidson County delegation celebrated many wins. However, Wilkerson firmly believes that winning isn’t everything.
“Winning is fun, but the best part was just being there with my delegation and being able to ride,” says Wilkerson.
Thanks to the Garwoods and the support of her fellow Special Olympics Davidson County athletes, it’s safe to say that Wilkerson will continue to ride for many years to come.