For the last 20 years, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has held a very special event for some very special kids. The Lil Rustlers' Rodeo, which took place the 4th, 5th and 11th this month, is an event held each year to allow physically and mentally challenged children in on the fun.
"It's just very important for these kids to have a night, a special time just for them," Kathy Herd, who has headed up the event for the last two years, told us.
Over the three days, 45-50 kids per day are invited onto the dirt of Reliant Stadium before the actual events of the night take place. There, they find an entire miniaturized version of the rodeo for them to "compete" in. They can tame the bucking bronc or the raging bull, both consisting of saddled see-saws manned by volunteers. They are given lassos to rope the calves (hay bales with bull horns attached). Volunteers lead them around the barrel racing path while they race with the stick-plush horse head combination we all know and love.
There's also real baby animals to pet and a ride around the arena on the back of a real horse.
Niki Cammaert, most famous for being the blonde, trick riding woman with the American flag on the back of the white horse during the national anthem, has helped out with this event every year she has been with the rodeo.
"You can really see it on their faces when they get out there, they just light up," she said, just before helping a child onto the back of her horse to lead him on a ride.
Not only do they get to play cowboy, but many times they get advice and help from the real things. Along with the clowns and volunteers that come out to help the kids have a good time, many of the professionals will find their way onto the dirt to help out as well.
"A lot of nights we'll have rodeo participants, actual PRCA members come out," volunteer Nano Scherrieb told us.
At the end of the event, every child is given a trophy and sent home with a smile.
Here are some photos:
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