The glow of the riders’ anticipation and genuine excitement warmed the place so much that the sun might as well have been shining, because that’s what we will remember the next day.
There are a hundred stories that surround this Ironstone event – and many “firsts.”
It was a first annual in memory of Barbara DeNitto, long time instructor at Ironstone who launched and managed the Special Olympics Equestrian Sports in all of Massachusetts from 1988 to 2010 the year she passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. Barbara’s husband, children and grandchildren were in attendance and presented the first perpetual Good Sportsmanship Award in Barbara’s name to B.J Landry of Chelmsford, a young man with Down syndrome who has been riding at Ironstone for more than 20 years.
It was the first drill team performance of DeNitto’s Bandito’s – a group of young adults with disabilities ranging from Down syndrome to brain cancer who had been Barbara’s students for two decades – all riding to a music medley of Back in the Saddle, Happy Trails and Rawhide. Now coaching the team is Jaime Velez, an instructor at Ironstone who hails from Columbia and twice each year brings the Ironstone program model to teach professionals in South America.
Then there are all the little stories … like the young lady who tried so hard to give her medal away to her teammate who didn’t win one; and the 15 year old girl with cerebral palsy – a participant at Ironstone since 2 – who recently returned after surgery for spinal cord fusion; and the young woman with traumatic brain injury after an accident who can now find challenge in equestrian sports. For each rider there is a story to tell – of quiet courage, caring, and undauntable spirit.
The show was also the first on another front. The cook-out was provided by a small group of veterans, organized by Jeff Hall who belongs to an organization called The Mission Continues. The group, Jeff, his wife Anita, Kevin Fahy, Jorge Sanchez and his son, Billy, had never worked together before, but the group turned the expected burgers and dogs into a feast for the 200 guests.