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@2001 Jennie Williams
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Jennie Williams

     It’s Friday night, October 23, 1998, at the majestic Olympic Horse Park in Atlanta, Georgia. The scene is set, the excitement is in the air. The athletes are at their peak, the anticipation of winning or losing is rampant. The coaches and families are on the edges of their seats. It’s the opening ceremonies, in all of its glory and majesty. The Equestrian Special Olympics are about to begin for 1998. And right in the middle of the opening ceremonies are three lovely Paso Fino horses, representing our breed in a Parade of Breeds sponsored by the Special Olympic committee. What an unbelievably rewarding experience it turned out to be.

     Marie Nguyen, with her gelding Dude, Gene Williams, with his colt Comunero, and I, with my mare Fiesta, were all invited, and donated our time and effort to present the Pasos to a whole new group of the horse enthusiasts. We had no idea what to expect when we first arrived at Olympic Stadium in Conyers, Georgia, that evening. We were greeted enthusiastically by Laura Johns, who runs the events and directs the games annually. She was so happy that we had come because Paso Finos had never been represented in any previous games.

     We were all nervous and excited, we had never done anything like this before. As time got shorter, and we groomed and primped our three kids. And kids they were. We had two four year olds and a three year old to show the world how wonderful we were. Consider the maturity level of these babies, and the lights, and action, and shadows, and all the rest that goes with being on display. Our nerves were justified. Would we present ourselves as horsemen with wonderful smooth horses or really embarrass ourselves with partially trained, uninitiated babies who were wide eyed and terrified. It was a real toss up as to what would happen. As the time to actually enter the ring approached, the tension got so thick that you could cut it with a knife. We mounted up and headed toward the big ring. Can you imagine? We are on three babies that have never been ridden in the dark, winding our way through the back alleys of the huge Conyers Olympic Stadium, where every dumpster is a monster to jump out at you, and every light pole is surrounded in unreal circles of light, and every fence post is a predator waiting to eat you if you don’t run by! And to top it off, you keep heading toward all this light, and flame, and noise, and music. Surely you will die tonight, maybe even be thrown to the lions in the big ring! Avoid it! Avoid it! Run if you can! Dance, prance, fidget, spook, shy, BACK UP, or whatever else you can do to save yourself!!

     Then all of a sudden, it is time. The music of Gloria Estaban comes on, the announcer says "Paso Finos," and wonder of wonders, three horses and three riders go tic-a-tic-a-tic into the ring like they were pros. And that was the one and only time we were professionals, when we rode into the ring. Once we got there it was a zoo. We had one baby who wanted only to back up, we had one that would corto and stop dead, and one who was at a flying largo weaving in and around anything just to keep going and get away. None of us noticed what was happening in the stands, we were just happy to stay on and not run into each other. We were hopeless. We managed to get out of the ring in one piece and were happy we weren’t dead. Marie told me after that experience, "If this had been a Paso show, I would have changed my name and phone number!!" Oh well, we all live and learn.

      The next day, at the actual events, Marie was inundated with people coming up to her praising her for the wonderful show the Pasos had put on the night before. Everyone was so impressed, telling her we were the best horses in the show, because we were so exciting and none of the entrants had ever seen a Paso Fino before. We really lit a fire under everyone. She even had one lady come up and ask who had done our choreography, and how we must have practiced for weeks! Marie, being the honest soul that she is, had to reply, "M’am, that wasn’t choreography, it was chaos!" It just goes to show you that even if you are disappointed in your own performance, someone else will see it in a different light and be thrilled by it. Don’t let fear of the unknown stop you from trying something new. We presented our Paso Finos at their worst, and they were seen as the best in the ceremonies. We were not prepared, nor did we have a plan, but our beautiful horses dazzled the crowd, had them dancing in the stands, and represented the Paso Fino breed with pride.

      However, the opening ceremonies with all of its ups and downs were nothing compared to the actual events the next day. Marie and her daughter volunteered their services to assist the riders and helpers in keeping their horses out of the spectator area. She said she learned so much from those young people, about courage and determination and good sportsmanship, that all of us could take a page from. She saw a young girl who could not ride without help, fall from her horse, and ask to be put back on so she could continue to compete. She watched a mentally disabled boy ride a dressage test that Robert Dover would have appreciated. The joy that the medals and ribbons brought to those kids was priceless. From tears to laughter, it was an emotional roller coaster ride she was happy and honored to be on.

      We, the three of us, were pleased that we were so well received, and learned that perfection is not always important in what we do. Just to have been there, and shown everyone what a lovely horse the Paso is was enough. In the show ring, so much emphasis is put on "doing it Right!!!" Maybe, we should step back a step, look at the youngsters who are just happy to be doing it at all, and learn that perfection is not everything in life. We thank the Special Olympians for the wonderful experience they gave us, and promise them that next year we will be there with bells on!