Seven athletes from Harnett County will compete in the Special Olympics North Carolina Equestrian Tournament at the James B. Hunt Horse Complex in Raleigh this weekend.
Tami Lynch, owner of Big Ridge Farms in Lillington, is the head coach of the Harnett County Special Olympics Equestrian Team. She helped start up the team three years ago, but she’s been working with the team in Cumberland County for 23 years.
The team uses two horses that stay at Big Ridge Farms: Diablo, owned by volunteer Nisha Thomas, and Hemi, owned by Thomas’ 11-year-old daughter, Abbi.
The athletes practice at Big Ridge Farms, where Lynch and volunteers help teach them about proper equestrian practices.
“I got so much joy out of helping the athletes in Cumberland County and seeing these athletes, who, in my opinion, have reasons to be upset with life, and they’re not," Lynch said. "They’re always happy. Here we are fussing over the most minor things, and they’re as happy as can be. It gives you a new perspective on life.”
For some of the athletes, Lynch said they just want to get a different color ribbon than they got last year. For others, it’s a very serious competition, with some athletes having the mentality of all or nothing. But in the end, all of the athletes end up having a great time.
“It’s really neat to see them be competitive in the arena,” Lynch said. “But then on Saturday night, they have a Special Olympics sponsored dance, and they all end up being the best of friends.”
There’s a lot that goes into putting together the team. Several volunteers work with the athletes and the horses, and several also work behind the scenes with things like paperwork and fundraising.
“It takes a really great group of people to make this happen,” Lynch said. “And we’re lucky to have that.”
The team is always looking to add more volunteers, as well as sponsors and fundraisers. Lynch said they’ll need to step up their fundraising after competition to prepare for the upcoming season, which will kick off again in March.
“Anyone who’s interested — they don’t even have to be horse knowledgeable — if anyone wants to help out, we would certainly be happy to talk and help get them involved,” Lynch said.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” Lynch added. “Weeks and weeks of practices. It’ll take four or five days for me to get everything packed up [to go to Raleigh] and it’ll take four or five days for me to get everything back. But to see the happiness on their faces, whether they win a medal or ribbon or not, that makes it all worth it.”