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Emmy Harrop's graduation

Special needs student at Lake Oswego High School fulfills her goal of riding in her equestrian senior ceremony

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Emmy Harrop, possibly the first special needs member of the Lake Oswego High School Equestrian Team, leads a mini horse during a competition.Emmy Harrop, a 2016 Lake Oswego High School graduate, had good reason for yearning to ride on horseback for her senior ceremony during the Oregon High School Equestrian Team’s spring meet.

“I didn’t want to be the embarrassing person who came in without a ridable horse,” she says.

Harrop, possibly the first special needs member of the LOHS Equestrian Team, did the Lakers proud for three seasons by leading a mini horse on foot through a course in competition. But she had to prepare for months to ensure she was not the only senior who participated without a mount at the April 16 senior ceremony at McMinnville’s Yamhill County Fairgrounds.

At first, her parents and coaches said they weren't sure she could do it safely. But Harrop always believed she could.

“Emmy was determined, I can tell you that,” says instructor Nicole Budden, founder of West Linn’s Happy Trails Riding Center, which offers riding lessons for students with disabilities.

Eighteen-year-old Harrop is on the autism spectrum. She is high-functioning, but her mom, Linda Harrop, says she struggles to cope with loud crowds. In fact, that's why Emmy didn't walk in her LOHS commencement ceremony on June 3.

“She wasn’t going to go through the graduation ceremony at school, so the senior ceremony was her graduation ceremony,” Linda says.

Emmy has been taking riding lessons on and off since first grade, her mom says, but she doesn’t own her own horse and can’t practice as often as some riders. She can saddle up two or three times per month, whereas other riders who own their mounts can get on horseback as often as they like. So it was a daunting task for her to come galloping in for her senior ceremony and persuade her horse to circle the arena at top speed in front of a cheering and clapping crowd, as riders do at the event.

“They ride really fast when they come in,” says Emmy’s father, Jim Harrop.

LOHS OHSET coach Marie Dodds and team leaders Ross Divers and Katie Purdy helped ready Emmy for the big day, kicking off additional horseback training in February. Budden arranged to have her ride an American Painted Horse named Dixie.

“To be able to help somebody else achieve something they want to do was just an incredible feeling,” Budden says.

Emmy had taken lessons on Dixie before; she is a fairly easygoing horse, although not the calmest in the stable. Most horses live to be 25-30 and “Paints” can live up to 35 years, so 18-year-old Dixie certainly wasn’t a sleepy old mare.

“It was (Emmy’s) determination that made the senior ceremony happen, and all these amazing people came around her,” Linda says. “Good people.”

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Through determination and lots of practice, Harrop was able to ride in her senior ceremony this April.Dodds says Emmy inspired Dixie to trot and even canter a little in the ceremony, which is a notch below a gallop.

“It requires a very high skill level of riding to do that, and you need to have a nice, calm horse to be able to do that in a stressful situation,” Dodds says.

It was smart of Emmy to keep her participation in the ceremony low-key, an approach that possibly prevented injury to her and her horse, Dodds adds. Emmy kept her horse standing still in a line with her teammates, while more students from other schools’ equestrian teams came galloping in, tossing clumps of mud in the air and spurring the crowd to cheer in appreciation.

Dodds says it’s a little like the beginning of a rodeo, when the riders rush in, greeted by excited spectators.

It was an accomplishment for Emmy, and also a farewell to OHSET. She had been involved in the group, which promotes a high school equestrian athletic program with statewide meets, since her sophomore year at LOHS. Emmy transferred to LOHS that year because of its stellar program for autistic students, Jim says.

For her first two years, Emmy participated in an event called Showmanship, which required her to lead a mini horse around the arena. It also calls for interacting with the judges, and Emmy fought to be able to make eye contact and to remember to smile, Dodds says. The judges were never told she had special needs, and she was treated no differently in competitions.

The Showmanship event also required the support of someone who owned mini horses, which is where Dayna Stamnes came in. Stamnes is a youth pastor at Rolling Hills Community Church, which the Harrops attend, and she also was the proud owner of two rescued mini horses, Nutter-Butter and her mom Pitter-Patter.

Stamnes has a middle daughter in OHSET through Wilsonville High School, so she knew she would be traveling to the Yamhill County Fairgrounds anyway. But lending the minis actually meant she had to make two trips, delivering the full-size horse to her daughter and the minis separately because the little guys can’t travel with a regular horse — they are so small that they can slip under the divider and into another horse’s stable, and get trampled.

Stamnes says she didn’t mind going the extra miles, literally, for Emmy because the teen took such good care of her mini horses.

“She really embodied true horsemanship, because she cared about the horses much more than she cared about the competition,” Stamnes says, “and I think her teammates would say that everyone learned from Emmy as well, because that’s the goal of a true horseman: to care about the horse more than you care about the competition.”SUBMITTED PHOTO - Harrop does not own a mini horse, so she borrowed two that were previously owned by Dayna Stamnes, a youth pastor at Rolling Hills Community Church.

Emmy’s entire equestrian career sparked because of the mini horses. She started out just spending time grooming them, but when her parents and Stamnes realized she could potentially compete with them and be involved in OHSET, her parents decided to try it. Emmy wanted to, after all.

“I love horses, and being around them,” she says.

It never occurred to Dodds not to include Emmy on the team. She’s been the LOHS Equestrian Team adviser since her daughter joined as a high school freshman. Though her daughter has long since gone — she graduated from Texas Christian University this year — Dodds stayed on because this is her passion. The coming school year will include her ninth season, but Emmy is the first special needs student on the team that she knows of — now or previously.

“She was just a member of the team. That was the first thing she was,” Dodds says.

And that’s all Emmy ever wanted. That’s what she loved most about leading mini horses.

“I got to be a part of the team,” she says.

This season, Dodds upped the ante and encouraged Emmy to participate in two other events with one of the mini horses, mostly Nutter-Butter. (Another student would work with Pitter-Patter.) Emmy did In-Hand Trail and In-Hand Obstacle Relay. The latter event is timed, requires team participation and a little jump for the mini, and Dodds created a second LOHS team just for Emmy. Emmy did well in most of the events, and even scored in the middle of the pack at the March meet this spring.

Students on the second team included Claire Torkelson, an LOHS senior at the time. The other two seniors, McKenna Anders and Paige Vizza, were on the other In-Hand Obstacle Relay team, so they got the chance to observe Emmy in action.

Vizza says she could see how nervous Emmy was — at first.

“I feel like she relaxed a little bit and had fun,” Vizza says. “The whole (LOHS) team had fun with her, and I thought it was a great experience.”

Vizza says she’s been proud of all the growth she’s seen in her teammate.

“At first, she didn’t want to participate as much, and didn’t want to take photos with the team,” she says. “But by the end, she was riding in the senior ceremony and participated in a lot of group photos and came to a lot of team dinners, so I was so proud of her.”

Jim Harrup says he reached out to The Review recently about his oldest daughter’s experience with LOHS OHSET because he was so impressed with that spirit of inclusion exhibited by Emmy’s coaches and teammates. Linda Harrop says she simply needs to thank everyone who supported her daughter: Stamnes, Budden, Dodds, Divers, Purdy and the team.

Dodds says it’s true that everyone welcomed Emmy.

“But in the end, it was a two-way street,” she says. “Emmy was a delight to have on the team. She was really funny; she had a good sense of humor.”

Vizza says Emmy was always kind to others, making sure everyone else felt included as well.SUBMITTED PHOTO - Harrop is an artist who someday hopes to attend an art certification program through a school such as Portland Community College, says her mom, Linda Harrop.

What’s next for Emmy? She is enrolled in the Lake Oswego School District’s Community Transition Program, which helps students with special needs, ages 18-21, shift from high school to the workforce and an independent life. Emmy also has a “God-given” talent with art and could be pursuing an art certification of some kind, possibly at Portland Community College, her mom says.

Dodds says Emmy’s absence on the LOHS Equestrian Team will be felt.

“She is one of those kids who I will really, really miss next year," she says, "and I’m very proud of what she has accomplished.”

By Jillian Daley
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