To compete in the equestrian world, one must be overtly understanding of an animal and their needs. Special Olympics NC Dare County athlete Julius Levesque is no stranger to this world. Julius dedicates his time outside of the competition ring to volunteering with local animal shelters and training with therapy horses. It is evident that Julius values the success of his horse in the competition as much as his own. After all, they are teammates.
Julius and his mother, Francine Massiello, first learned about therapeutic horseback riding through their connection with Surfing for Autism, an annual event in Nags Head in which individuals with autism are taught surfing skills by local professionals.
“I call it ‘The Big Love Fest on the Beach,’” said Francine. “I was talking to one of the volunteers with Surfing for Autism, Sam Iulo, and asked if she knew anyone who does therapeutic horseback riding and she says, ‘Oh wow, I do that!’”
Sam, an Exceptional Children teacher in Dare County, is the program director for the Mane & Taill Therapeutic Horsemanship Academy. Mane & Taill, which stands for Meeting All Needs Equestrian and Teaching All Individuals Life Lessons, supports the Special Olympics Dare County equestrian team.
This year at the 2019 Special Olympics North Carolina Equestrian Tournament, Julius competed in showmanship, trails and dressage. Leading up to the event, Julius trained with Maverick, a rescue horse from Dare County.
“We came across this amazing horse, Maverick, and Julius has been working with him for the past year on different skills,” said Francine. “Maverick has been really great.”
While many horses graced the ring at the competition that weekend, Julius made the trip to the Gov. James B. Hunt Horse Complex with another animal friend in tow. Massiello refers to Monty as Julius’ therapy bunny. Monty stays close to his side, even on competition day.
“Do you know the rabbit from ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail?’ Monty is just like that,” joked Julius.
Julius returned to Dare County with a sixth-place ribbon in showmanship, a bronze medal in working trails, a silver medal in dressage Level B and his luckiest charm of them all, Monty.
When asked about his favorite part of the tournament, Julius responded, “I had a really good time, so the whole thing. Just check the ‘All of the Above’ box.”
Julius’ mom is a source of great support and encouragement in each of his endeavors. She takes great pride in his independence, noting that he works one day a week at the Dollar General as well as volunteering in his community.
In addition to volunteering at the animal shelter, Julius takes on a variety of additional roles.
“For the past few years, Julius has dressed as Santa Claus and visits the local hospital, senior center and does the Breakfast with Santa fundraiser for the Mane & Taill Therapeutic Horsemanship Academy,” said Francine. “He also dresses up as the Easter Bunny too. His gift is working with kids and seniors.”
Although Julius did not compete with the help of any reindeer this year, he celebrates each of his victories with animals, family and friends alike.