Severe autism didn’t deter Brasen Newsom from letting ’er buck Thursday at the Pendleton Round-Up.

Brasen wears headphones to block the cacophony of loud noises — the announcer’s banter, the roaring crowd and the music that pulsed from arena speakers. The eight-year-old Pendleton boy grimaced Thursday as he watched a bull burst out of the chute and whirl like a washing machine on spin cycle. His eyes widened a little as the bull flung his rider rudely to the turf.

Brasen got to find his inner cowboy courtesy of the Children’s Western Wish Foundation. With his parents, Ashley Haapla and Jason Newsom, he navigated a full day’s schedule. The Sherwood Elementary third-grader participated in the Children’s Rodeo, ate lunch and settled in for the rodeo.

“He hasn’t taken his eyes off it,” said Haapla. “He especially likes the fast-paced events — the ones with lots of movement.”

Glee Nett, founder of the Children’s Western Wish Foundation, stayed close to orchestrate the day. The Wyoming resident personally oversees each wish granted to children and some adults “who are in some way challenged or afflicted.”

“Our mission is to share our western ways,” Nett said.“And we do that by granting wishes.”

With financing from the Pendleton Round-Up Association and Happy Canyon, Nett arranged for Brasen to dress cowboy cool. By the end of the day, the little boy had collected ostrich boots, Wrangler jeans and shirt, a pink tie-dyed Children’s Rodeo shirt, a Montana Silversmith belt buckle and a hat autographed by dozens of cowboys, pickup men and bull fighters.

Brasen’s contingent stopped by a cowboy camp where he was the special guest of the pickup men and stock contractors who had made an oasis in the center of a group of RVs that walled the camp off from the rest of the Round-Up Grounds.

Afterwards, Brasen and his mom strolled slowly past horse and bull pens. The boy’s eyes looked longingly at the horses. Haapla said her son does therapeutic riding for his autism. Brasen, who doesn’t speak intelligibly, has a special bond with horses.

“He really likes horses,” she said. “The first one he saw, he walked right up to it and tried to get on it.”

Haapla is obviously close to Brasen, whose name she said means “gift of God.”

“He lives up to his name,” she said.

They wandered to a bull pen, where the bovine athletes had transformed from raging beasts to docile creatures munching on grain. Brasen promptly stuck his hand through the fence and petted one on the nose.

Nett, a Wyoming rancher and horse trainer, has been granting and overseeing wishes for 11 years now. She did 42 in her busiest year. Children’s challenges have varied from a three-year-old with low self-esteem to a boy who died the next day. That boy had dreamed of being a roper and Nett arranged for him to perform, along with his father, in an exhibition at a rodeo in Casper, Wyoming.

Nett also gifted a horse to a girl with brain and spine cancer.

Brasen’s special day included rides at the downtown carnival. Nett smiled at Brasen’s obvious pleasure.

“Special needs kids are seldom honored for being special,” she said. “But they are gifts from God.”


Contact Kathy Aney at or call 541-966-0810.

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