When eighth-grader Matias Garza’s family started looking for him an outlet that celebrated people and their differences, they found Special Olympics North Carolina (SONC). Garza’s first time ever competing with SONC, the Special Olympics Rowan County equestrian athlete celebrated winning gold.
At the 2022 SONC Equestrian Tournament, held Oct. 7-9 at Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, North Carolina, three riders, including Garza, from Smith Stables at Heart joined the Special Olympics Rowan County delegation.
“I love it, this is something new,” said Kelly Moore, Matias’ mother. “It’s different than most sports other kids are doing… I always wanted him to be kind of different, eclectic. I wanted him to explore other sports.”
Led by head coach and therapeutic riding instructor Andi Taylor, Special Olympics athletes began training in August to build their horsemanship skills for the competition ring. In August, Taylor introduced Garza to his four-legged teammate, Preacher.
“She’s a good teacher,” said Garza. “I learned pole bending, trails and how to control Preacher.”
Winning the gold medal in pole bending, Garza successfully navigated Preacher through a weaving path of six poles arranged in a line. Preacher, a seasoned professional, was the perfect companion for Garza’s first time in the ring.
“Preacher is more trained, as far as he’s got more push buttons,” said Taylor. “You do this, he’ll turn. You don’t have to pull on the reigns. Preacher wants to get his work done.”
“It’s fun,” said Garza. “He’s hardworking.”
With Preacher, Garza earned a silver medal in dressage, where a rider leads their horse through a series of predetermined movements, and a fourth-place ribbon in working trails, where horses are required to work over and through obstacles. For eight weeks, Garza and Preacher trained for the 2022 SONC Equestrian Tournament, readying to win gold.
Following Preacher’s lead, the two built a bond through training and competition. After his introduction to competing with SONC, Garza plans to continue training in equestrian and to explore basketball.
“This is showing him a range of sports he can do and gets his mind out there,” said Moore.
At the very start of Garza’s Special Olympics career, he has already established a winning mentality, aimed for gold.