The Orange County Special Angels Rodeo began as a dream and has become an event that makes dreams come true for special needs individuals of all ages. Founder Lue Harris will never forget the night she woke up from a dream, a dream of doing something to impact the lives of a group near and dear to her heart — those with special needs.
Convinced that this dream was nothing less than a divine call to action, Lue woke up her husband Dan and told him that they needed to champion something really big for those with special needs. And so began a journey to bridge the gap between Lue’s dream and reality — something that would take a heap of work on the part of a whole lot of folks.
With the help her daughter Jo, daughter-in-law Debbie, and other family and friends, Lue’s dream of blessing those with special needs started to take shape. Her dream resonated in the hearts of people throughout the community. Folks liked the idea of offering those with special needs a rodeo experience unlike any other — an opportunity to become a cowboy or cowgirl for a day and participate in rodeo events using equipment especially adapted to meet their needs.
This year, for the third time, the Orange County Special Needs Rodeo welcomed volunteers and individuals with special needs from around the state. In the days preceding the event, an army of volunteers transformed the T2 Arena and Event Center in Orange into a handicap-accessible rodeo wonderland — complete with specially adapted mechanical bulls, a petting zoo, horses, and so much more.
I first learned about this rodeo a year ago when I interviewed Jo and her mother Lue at their Farmers Mercantile Store in Orange. I knew then that I wanted to volunteer at the rodeo and waited a year to do so. And I am so glad I did. I was absolutely blown away by what I saw. The transformation of the facility was beyond anything I could have imagined.
What touched my heart the most was seeing the smiles and hearing the laughter of those young and old arriving in wheelchairs, leaning on walkers, and holding the hands of volunteers. Every participant was matched to a special buddy who helped them get around the arena to enjoy the day. Even wheelchair-bound individuals had an opportunity to ride a horse around the arena on specially designed saddles with safety straps. Totally amazing!
To say my heart was warmed would be an understatement. I can’t stop thinking about what a magnificent day this was for me as a volunteer. My wife Cheryl accompanied our new friend Gwen on her rodeo experience. Gwen is bound to a wheelchair but today, her spirit and her smile were set free. Cheryl cried when she had to say goodbye to Gwen.
Folks like Lue and Dan and Jo and Debbie and their team represent the best of what it means to be a Texan. They don’t try to hide the fact that they lean heavily on God for help and want to glorify Him by serving others. Their selfless service along with that of their many sponsors, underwriters, and volunteers make it possible for a special group of Texans to make wonderful memories in a rodeo arena. Knowing folks like the Harris family and attending events like this make me proud to be a Texan.