PENDLETON - A 10-year-old boy rode up and down on a hay-supported wooden bull, a smile coming over his face as he held on with one hand and let fly with the other.
"Good job, cowboy," said volunteer Ken MacRae, a retired veterinarian from Ellensburg, Wash.
Volunteers treated 40 local special-needs children to a day of fun late Wednesday morning in the Round-Up Arena. The children, who suffer from disabilities such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and limited hearing and vision, got a rare opportunity in the spotlight at the annual Round-Up Children's Rodeo. They rode a "bull" - similar to a teeter-totter - rocked by volunteers, barrel-raced on a stick horse, raced to pull a ribbon off a goat's tail and practiced steer-roping. The children also got to ride a real horse and inside a horse-drawn buggy.
"It's a day that they can ... do things they can't normally do," said Karen Parker, longtime director of the Children's Rodeo.
Angela Binning of Irrigon brought her 8-year-old son Robin Wright to the rodeo.
"It gives him an opportunity to be social with children and other adults," Binning said. "He has a social disorder, so anytime I can get him involved with animals and other kids is very beneficial."
Michael and Naomi Seggerman of Pendleton brought their 7-year-old son, Nicholas, who has cerebral palsy.
"Normally, everyone is doing something he can't do," Michael Seggerman said. "It's not his brothers or his friends, it's him out there. It's a neat event for him."
"It brightens his day up," Naomi Seggerman added.
Cowboys and cowgirls from the Western Trails Therapeutic Riding Center, Bar M Ranch, Northwest Steer Ropers and other organizations paired up with the children to demonstrate rodeo techniques.
"They all love the sport of rodeo and they realize that they were gifted with athletic ability that not everybody and all the children have," Susie Ward of Hepp-ner said of the volunteers.
Maxine Davis, head wrangler at the Bar M Ranch, said the children "enjoy the atmosphere, being with the horses and everything. It's almost therapeutic for them."
Pendleton resident Brian Miller, 5, who suffers from a brain lesion, said he was excited to ride a horse.
"He's been talking about it for two weeks," said Tracey Miller, his mother. "It's all he talks about."
The Umatilla-Morrow Education Service District provided 30 volunteers and helped sponsor the event with the Round-Up Association, Pendleton Chamber of Commerce and Western Trails. Western Trails also donated the horses and equipment.
Many of the children in the rodeo also participate at Western Trails, co-director Dylan Miller said.
"This is kind of like the top-off of the season," he said. "It's kind of the last hurrah for us."
The event was noncompetitive, and every child received a trophy. The young cowboys and cowgirls also went home with a cowboy hat, a steer rope and a shirt.