Equestrian rides to fulfill a dream

A paraplegic competitor will saddle up in her first show.
Friday, May 28, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:51 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Nelly Owen and Tom Bass have two things in common: Both love horses, and both have overcome the odds to become successful.

During today’s Tom Bass Classic, named for the famous Missouri horse trainer who had to overcome racial adversity, Owen, who is disabled, will be competing in the United Professional Horseman’s Association’s exceptionally challenged riders class at the horse show.

A car accident in 1977 left Owen paralyzed from the chest down. She said that after the first 10 years of trying to survive, she set goals for herself. After she completed her goal of graduating from veterinary school in 1998, she started volunteering at Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center because of her love of horses. By fall 2002, she was riding again.

Today she will compete for the first time. She is one of 180 participants in this weekend’s competition but the only one in the exceptionally challenged riders class.

“I just wish I wasn’t the only one,” Owen said. “Not that I’m not used to it. I was the only one in vet school in a wheelchair. I was the only one in my science classes in a wheelchair.”

This is the first year the show has included the UPHA exceptionally challenged competition. Karen Grindler, who works at Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center, said a representative from the horse show called her and asked the group to be a part of the show. Part of the revenue from the show will be donated to the center.

Grindler said Owen hopes to qualify for the national competition at the Royal American Horse Show in Kansas City, a show Bass founded in 1892.

Bass was born in Boone County on Jan. 5, 1859, to William Hayden Bass, a white landowner, and Cornelia Gray, a slave. He began riding horses when he was 3 and moved to Mexico, Mo., when he was 20, where he opened Bass Barn. He turned his local stable into a national success, training horses for Theodore Roosevelt, Will Rogers and Buffalo Bill Cody. Bass died in 1934. He was selected for the Hall of Famous Missourians in 1999.

Most of the Bass show entries are patrons of the Janian series of horse shows, show manager Lenard Davenport said, referring to Janet and Ian Thompson’s shows. They are friends of Davenport, and set up the series in an effort to promote the horse industry across Missouri. “Each one of us sees different aspects of where the problems are or what we can do to make it better or run easier,” Davenport said. The show continues through Sunday.

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