MUSKOGEE, Okla. –Oklahoma School for the Blind students are saddling up again September 27 for their 13th Western Heritage Day.
The annual event will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Silver Spur Western Lodge owned by Roy Webb in Haskell.
Webb donates his indoor arena, stage coach and hay wagon and are on hand to visit with students.
Sharon Breeding, a volunteer leader with Oklahoma Quarter Horse Association, coordinates dozens of volunteers from all over the state who help OSB students, kindergarten through 12th grade, experience the old west.
Youth members from the Oklahoma Youth Quarter Horse Association, the rodeo team from Connors State College in Warner, American Quarter Horse Association Trail Riders and area high school students will be matched up with OSB students as buddies for the day.
Activities include pony, mechanical bull and stagecoach rides; dummy calf roping; fishing; rock climbing; and other hands-on activities.
Elise Wade, the 2017 Oklahoma State University spirit rider, will be on hand for photos with her horse Bullet, whom she rides onto the field to celebrate every OSU touchdown. She is a strategic communications major who has been riding and showing horses longer than she has been walking. Wade is a lifetime member of the American Quarter Horse Association and OQHA.
The OQHA sponsors lunch, which is served by volunteers from local churches.
Donnie Hough from Pryor brings the ponies.
Big Rock Entertainment provides the bungee jump, rock wall and mechanical bull.
“OSB’s Silver Spur experience started when Don LaPorte spoke to our students at our Future Shock career day approximately 13 years ago,” OSB Superintendent Rita Echelle said. “Now Western Heritage Day is an adventure that all the students look forward to and one that is rich with great memories.”
LaPorte, who has a visual disability himself, first talked to students about his successful food service business affiliated with Visual Services’ Business Enterprise Program. Then a brainstorm led him to combine a love of horses and access to volunteers as a member of OQHA, with a desire to help OSB students.
Both OSB and Visual Services are divisions of the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services.
“Western Heritage Day teaches our kids to face challenges in life and see that if you do fall down, get up again and try again – don’t just stop,” said LaPorte, who continues to join OQHA volunteers at Western Heritage Day every year.
“I am extremely appreciative to the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Association, Silver Spur Ranch, and the countless volunteers who make Western Heritage Day a fun and educational day for our students,” Echelle said. “They provide an abundance of activities, introduce our students to special guests and treat them to a delicious lunch.”
“Students get hands-on experience riding horses, touching spurs and saddles and talking to cowboys who have lived on horse and cattle ranches,” said Linda Graber, a long-time volunteer and grandparent of an OSB student. “They also learn about the good times and the tough times working and making a living on a ranch.”
“When they load up on the bus to go back to school, the students are exhausted, but also excited,” Graber said. “They talk about everything that happened and how they’re ready to return next year and do it all again.”
Volunteers look forward to Western Heritage Day as much as the OSB students.
“We have people who drive over 200 miles to volunteer,” Sharon Breeding from OQHA said. “Once they’ve been to Western Heritage Day to help, they don’t want to ever miss it. It’s just a life-changing experience.”
The Oklahoma School for the Blind is fully accredited and teaches state-mandated education requirements and specialized skills that help students adapt to visual disabilities and live independently. In 2016, 158 students lived at the school during the week, commuted from home or attended summer school offered free of charge. As the statewide resource center, OSB offered statewide outreach services, including 288 consultations and evaluations and 2,856 services for students who attend other public schools, their families, educators and organizations.
For more information, call 918-781-8200 or 877-229-7136 toll free, or visit http://osb.k12.ok.us/index.html.