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Four horses, one dog and a flock of chickens

A Special Olympics event in Guatemala, at the Rancho Sante Fe
A Special Olympics event in Guatemala, at the Rancho Sante Fe
Michael Sherer

The semi-derelict and and mostly deserted sprawling Rancho Sante Fe lies a few kilometers past Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala’s second capital dating from the early 1500’s. The ranch, consisting of what was a magnificent main house and outbuildings, is now home to four horses, one dog and a large flock of brown chickens.

I'll work for apples
Michael Sherer

Today was the first event sponsored by the Special Olympics organization in Guatemala City, in cooperation with Maria E. Diaz, psychologist and equine therapist from Antigua. The Special Olympics movement began in the United States in 1968 and the organization opened its first office in Guatemala in 1978. Today there are ten schools scattered around the country, with another ten sub-chapters, serving some four hundred or so of these special people. The call to arrive for sign-ups today had gone out several weeks ago but given the distance and location, no one knew exactly how many would show up.

The start time was officially ten am and to last until 3pm. By ten thirty, four of the Special Olympics volunteer staff arrived. Maria E. Diaz was already there, making sure that whatever could be ready was ready. Norma Massis, one of Ms Diaz’ previous students in equine therapy, was there with logo gear and the others hung banners on the entrance and around the cavernous hall where the expected crowd was to gather. Two cars arrived, bearing one or two potential participants. And then the yellow half-size one-time school bus arrived, full of smiling children. Yes! Players!

Eventually the numbers were set at twenty five or so. Within the cavernous yellow and green sunken event hall, the sign-up sheets were set out, and a few anxious parents listened and watched as their progeny patiently took their turns to choose which sport or event they wanted.

‘Football’ was first, with ‘Athletics’ second: ‘Equestrian’ was the third and most popular choice, with over twenty signatures on the form. A few of the braver participants had visited Ms. Diaz’s horse in his stable earlier. With a long white blaze on his gentle face, he gratefully accepted whatever apple he was offered. Only the potential threat of his large white teeth kept them from getting too close but eventually the apples were handed over. He munched them with relish and laughter was heard.

The event, the first of its kind, was a success. By eleven o’clock, the bus was loaded, the two private cars left and the banners were taken down. Coming soon, to the sprawling Rancho Sante Fe, at the road marker 52 km, will be a group of happy children returning and taking turns riding Balin. With an apple or two, he’ll be happy and so will they. Kudos to Ms Diaz, Norma Massis and the Special Olympics organization of Guatemala. As usual, these events are free and the time and expenses are given freely by the volunteers. Balin, the wonder horse? He’ll work for apples, as long as someone else pays for them. I brought six today: Ms Diaz picked a Red Delicious, I got a green Jonathon and the horse with the big teeth got the rest.