If the Roundup Rodeo gave out prizes for heart and grit, Youthville's kids would have taken home the championship Wednesday night.

    Some of these little cowboys couldn't lift their legs into the saddle, or sit up straight unaided. The effort and tenacity they displayed as they focused intently on riding their horses around the ring reflected as much courage and spirit as that of any championship rodeo cowboy.


If the Roundup Rodeo gave out prizes for heart and grit, Youthville's kids would have taken home the championship Wednesday night.
    Some of these little cowboys couldn't lift their legs into the saddle, or sit up straight unaided. The effort and tenacity they displayed as they focused intently on riding their horses around the ring reflected as much courage and spirit as that of any championship rodeo cowboy. 
    Evidently, anyone with a cowboy's heart and a cowboy's grit can be a cowboy too.
    That's one of the message the people at Youthville want to send to the kids who participate in the center's therapeutic animal program.
    It was a message that came true for the Youthville kids, at least for a while.
    For a few moments, amidst all the noise and jumble coming from the stands, the children rode along, sharing the moment with passing riders and cowboys leading their horses, while the sounds of country music filled the twilight sky above the arena.
    One young man was there to make sure that the Youthville children had all the support they needed.
    Christian Dozier, 18, stood protectively near the riders, alert to any need and ready to fill it. He recently graduated from Youthville, and although the animal program he participated in was very different from that represented by Wednesday's riders, Dozier knows how important horses can be to children who face daily struggles most of us never have to think about.
    "I remember when I first trusted a horse. I think I trusted Sunshine, my horse at Youthville, before I trusted a person," said Dozier. "I think I had to trust Sunshine before I could trust a person."
    Dozier said he spent a lot of time with Sunshine, just sitting with the horse and sometimes telling him about problems the boy couldn't bring himself to share with the Youthville staff.
    "It was when Sunshine first ran to greet me that I knew he loved me," Dozier said. "The staff told me that's when you know, and when it came true, I believed them. Then I started to talk to them too, and I found out I could trust them. They never broke a promise to me, and they always kept their word. That's when I began to change, and now I am the one who is going to college and planning my future."
    His former counselors listened carefully and respectfully to Dozier and didn't immediately respond.
    "You know, I can't think of a better way to describe what you accomplished than the way you just said it," one counselor told Dozier.
    Dozier just beamed.
          
Reach Claire O'Brien at (620) 408-9931 or e-mail her at claire.obrien@dodgeglobe.com.