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Estacada youth with Down syndrome competes in Clackamas County equestrian fair in Canby

COURTESY PHOTO - McKenna Neldner and Ryan Hunt are all smiles at the Clackamas County Horse Fair, where Neldner helped Hunt with his horse, Ted.

Ryan Hunt nods his head in agreement when asked if he enjoys hugging his horse, Ted.

Ryan's mother, Heidi, noted that the two share a special bond.

"(Ted) is really in tune to Ryan," Heidi added. "When (Ryan) is with him he senses him, and takes care of him."

Ryan, 11, completed fifth grade at Clackamas River Elementary School this year. He has Down syndrome and began riding horses at age 4 as a form of hippotherapy.

Ryan competed in the Clackamas County Horse Fair from Saturday, July 6, through Friday, July 12, at the fairgrounds in Canby. This was Ryan's second year participating in the event, and he earned red ribbons in riding and showmanship.

Ryan has gained a variety of new skills by participating in equestrian activities.

"He went into the arena with Ted and did a lot by himself," Heidi said, discussing Ryan's participation during the fair. "That was a big change from last year. . .It's fun to see him improve and gain confidence."

Heidi appreciates the accommodations fair leadership has made for Ryan. The requirement of keeping a 4-H record book is waived, and Ryan uses cones to be able to keep track of the pattern he's riding in.

"As a parent, I couldn't ask for better support, both at the fair and in Estacada," she said.

At the fair, Ryan worked with Estacada High School student McKenna Neldner while in the arena.

"He has a lot of horsemanship skills, and she helps control the horse," Heidi said.

Ryan also enjoys meeting people at the fair and congratulating them on their performance.

"He'll see kids, and he'll say 'Great job out there,'" Heidi said.

Along with participating in the fair, Ryan has also ridden Ted in the Estacada Fourth of July parade for the last two years.

When Ryan isn't riding horses, he enjoys watching musicals, particularly "Into the Woods." After seeing Disney's 2014 adaptation of the story, he pointed out that actors play different characters.

"It's Johnny Depp, but it's not really him because he's playing the wolf," he said.

"(Ryan) loves acting," Heidi added, noting that he's interested in participating in musicals as he enters middle school.

She appreciates the friends Ryan has made in their hometown.

"Everywhere we go in Estacada, everyone knows him," she said.


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