David Ruckstaetter will saddle up next month on his way to Mississippi, just as they do in the cowboy Westerns he used to watch with his grandfather.
Ruckstaetter, 43, a Down syndrome adult, received $4,000 through online fundraising to compete in the 50th annual Dixie National Quarter Horse Show in Jackson, Miss.
Whether it’s rain, sleet or shine, you can find Ruckstaetter out on show horse Hannah and working with trainer Quinnon Coggins.
“He’ll ride in just about any weather, which means I can sit in the barn in just about any weather,” his mother Sarah Ruckstaetter said.
Years ago, Sarah Ruckstaetter said, David didn’t want her around while he was practicing, though it hardly matters to him at the horse shows when he’s having a blast.
“Now when I come out, he’s looking at me and watching me instead of going around the rail, kind of goofing around,” she said.
David’s first foray in horse riding was at age 11, starting out at a week camp in Michigan and a therapeutic riding program in Florida where they lived.
“It was one reason we decided to move here because he could continue with riding,” Sarah said.
David is a lover of cowboy movies, something he would watch with his grandfather.
“When he started riding, he’d get his fingers out like guns, and they told him he had to leave his guns outside,” Sarah said.
Coggins has worked with David for five to six years, and is preparing him for the show next month. The Dixie National Quarter Horse Show is the largest in the South, drawing competitors from all over the country and some from Europe.
“I mainly train top-end show horses and riders ... so David’s kind of a new experience for me as it was for him,” he said.
The Dixie National course entails 10 to 15 different elements that David will do mostly on his own. He competed in the Georgia State Equine Special Olympics this year, placing in both trail and horsemanship.
Coggins and the Ruckstaetters were informed of the horse show’s pattern this week, which they will practice until the Feb. 10 show in Jackson.
Along with riding, David takes care of Hannah by brushing her coat and applying a hoof treatment once a week.
“We try and let him do as many different things as normal,” Coggins said.
One of David’s favorite horses, Flashy, is an older horse that wouldn’t be a viable option for the show due to her age and asthma.
“We were afraid she wouldn’t be able to make the trip, because it’s a long drive,” said Marcia Christopher, owner of Highgaite Farm on Green Drive in Gainesville.
Christopher has worked on and off with the Ruckstaetters since David was 18 and organized the social media campaign to raise money for his trip using the site YouCaring.com. Horse Rescue, Relief and Retirement Fund is receiving 10 percent of the funds raised.
“It’s helping rescue horses and also helping David get to his horse show,” Christopher said.
Hannah, Christopher said, is particular in the riders she lets atop her on the trails.
“She looked him in the eye when they first met, sized him up to see if she decided she liked him,” Christopher said.
Hannah agreed, and the pair have worked together for the past two months in practice.
“He has a very soft, kind manner with the horses,” Christopher said. “The horses relate to him and horses are amazing animals. They pick up on all our differences, and they are very accommodating.”
Over the years, David has progressed as a rider and competitor at horse shows, participating in a handful each year.
“David’s a hoot. He loves to put on a show for us. When he goes to a horse show, whether he wins, loses or draws, he makes everybody feel good because he’s just happy to be there. He puts his hand up in the air and shouts,” Christopher said.