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Spotlighting Show Horses and Helping Kids at the Big D Charity Horse Show

by Leslie Potter | Apr 20, 2023, 3:00 PM

This week, USEF Network viewers can tune in to the livestream from the Big D Charity Horse Show in Fort Worth, Texas. The show features exciting classes for American Saddlebreds, Morgans, and other breeds in saddle seat, driving, equitation, roadster, and pleasure classes. Big D is a longstanding tradition in the region, tracing its beginnings to 1971. In addition to being a favorite early season stop on the show circuit for many exhibitors, Big D has had a philanthropic mission since its inception.

An American Saddlebred from Skyview Stables visiting young patients at Scottish Rite for Children.
An American Saddlebred from Skyview Stables visiting young patients at Scottish Rite for Children. Photo: ©Gail Kirkland

Gail Kirkland is Vice President of the Board of Directors for Big D Charity Horse Show and has been involved in the show for 30 years. She serves as the liaison between the show and its charity partner, Scottish Rite for Children, a Texas children’s hospital that provides a broad range of pediatric services. Kirkland has firsthand experience with the expert treatment available through Scottish Rite as both of her own kids went through the hospital’s outpatient programs for children with learning differences.

“Both of my children were tested as outpatients at Scottish Rite Hospital. The testing helped us learn about children with Learning Disabilities," says Kirkland, adding that Scottish Rite’s renowned services are available to any children who need them, regardless of their family’s financial status or insurance coverage. "The hospital conducted extensive testing how my children learn and how best to help them in school to be successful. It was the first key to learning how my children process information and learn."

Scottish Rite started as a treatment center for children with polio in the 1920s. By the middle of the 20th century, the hospital expanded its focus to include other pediatric orthopedic conditions. Today, their scope includes care for children with sports injuries, neurological disorders, and other health care needs.

“Big D first partnered with Scottish Rite in 2006,” says Kirkland. “We chose a charity that would attract a broad spectrum of the community.”

Fundraising initiatives, namely the annual silent auction that runs during the show, are the core of the relationship between Big D Charity Horse Show and Scottish Rite. The horse show organizes the fundraisers which benefit Scottish Rite and cover the costs of running the show. But the mutually beneficial relationship goes beyond a financial donation.

“Last week, we brought horses to visit the children at the hospital,” said Kirkland, referencing a visit that has become an annual tradition in the leadup to the horse show. "We ask area trainers if they have a gentle horse who is good with children that they could bring for a visit to the hospital. We have met children who are inpatients and require help for daily living and children who are outpatients that come for rehabilitation or testing. The children are always curious and excited to meet a real horse. For a number of these children this might be the only opportunity to see a horse in person. Hospital beds, wheelchairs and walkers are not the norm for a horse to see. The most of the visiting horses have been inquisitive and gentle with the children, and in turn the children respond with 'ooohhh' and 'wow’ and 'they are big!'”

Over the years, most of the horses that have done the visits have been Saddlebreds from local trainers who attend the horse show, although other breeds are invited and have participated as well. Kirkland asks the trainers to have the horses groomed and show-ready when they come to the hospital so that the kids get to meet these equine athletes in their full glory.

“Sometimes the children are excited, and then you get the ones that are a little intimidated at first,” Kirkland says. “But then you have a calm, happy horse that’s interested in little people sitting or standing in strange devices the horse can become just as interested in the children as the children are in the horses. Sometimes the children’s parents are there to calm the apprehension or fear of the child, or if they’re inpatient a hospital representative is there to assist the child. We encourage the children to interact with the horse and ask them if they would like to actually pet the horse them. Once they warm up to being next to a big animal, we ask ‘Would you like to give them a peppermint or a carrot?’ They respond with, 'Wow! Yes!'”

Another aspect of the partnership is that volunteers affiliated with the hospital come out to the horse show to assist with things like staffing the ingate or presenting awards.

“Some of the volunteers have been there for a long time,” says Kirkland. “Lasat year we recognized volunteers who have been with our show for five or more years; we’ve had a family who have worked with us for 15 years. We develop a relationship with them. We look forwar to seeing these friends every year.”

Kirkland encourages anyone in the area to come out to the Big D Charity Horse Show, which takes place April 19-22 this year at the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum in Fort Worth. But for those who aren’t local, the USEF Network livestream is available to bring the show anywhere in the world and is a great introduction to the trotting breeds showcased there.

“What makes our show unique is an animated horse. They’re so different to watch, but you don’t have to be an avid fan [to enjoy them],” said Kirkland. “To see a different type of riding and have the opportunity to show that through USEF Network is awesome. We’re a little bitty branch of a big horse community, but we’re friendly people! We’re for everybody. See what else is offered. See what else your horse can do. We would love to have viewers inspired to check out the American Saddlebred, Morgan, and other animated horses.”

The livestream from the Big D Charity Horse Show is available on USEF Network powered by ClipMyHorse.TV April 19-22. US Equestrian fans, subscribers, and members can watch the replay on-demand anytime. Activate your free fan account or join now here.

Learn more about the Big D Charity Horse Show at www.bigdhorseshow.com and Scottish Rite for Children at www.scottishriteforchildren.org.