Cedar Vance and horse

Down syndrome doesn’t stop athlete Cedar Vance


Through Cedar's eyes

When Cedar Vance awakens in the early morning, her green eyes are greeted by a small, furry, tubular bundle with round expectant eyes, Gramophonic ears, and a tail movement akin to a metronome on high speed.

Reluctantly, she fills her jeans with short muscular legs of an athlete, pops her head into an undershirt and snaps shut her hay specked cowboy shirt. Her braids release fuzzy strands of hair to encircle her head like an undeveloped halo. She pulls on her mud encrusted boots, tiny thermo gloves and parka. A small herd of critters follow her as she looks up at the Montana snow clouds. She releases the adventurous guineas and hens from their safe cloister and together they all explore the day’s bounty.

She marches toward the tack shed filled with supplements and special concoctions. After gathering up the halters and leads, she picks from the corrals the aging and the athletes that have earned the rights to the healer’s brew that awaits them every morning.

As Cedar fetches the bowls from the deer pasture, she calls out for some of the orphaned does and bucks she and her mother, Bobbi Hall, rescued and bottle nursed, “Mary, Leela!” She fills the bowls with oats and grain. Moments after dropping them off, the familiar deer and offspring begin to arrive with their friends, but Cedar has already turned toward the gentle, once abandoned llamas whose bowls are also filled with oats.

  • Cedar Vance stops for some face time with her prize pony Star.
  • Making sure her horses Bugle (left) and Teddy have fresh hay and water is just part of the daily routine for Cedar Vance of Montana.
  • With a kiss, Cedar Vance displays her affection for Teddy, one of the many horses she tends to on a farm near Whitefish in northwestern Montana.
  • Trotting through fresh snow is no big deal for Cedar and Star. Cedar cares for horses, dogs, llamas, guineas and chickens and even orphaned deer she and her mother Bobbi have rescued.
  • Cedar Vance with a hay cart on the family ranch near Whitefish, Montana.

The hay is dispersed according to the weather’s calm or havoc. In snow she and Bobbi deliver with sleds; in mud they plow through with wagons. Cedar doesn’t give thought to pulling or pushing or time’s command to hurry. She methodically makes her deliveries to the hay feeders in the pastures and winding corrals. Her extra work delays the plundering of thoughtless hooves and gives the elderly and the followers of the herd relief from the bullies and bosses.

Bobbi Hall quoteThe morning chores are done, with all to be repeated later that evening. Until midday graining she will listen to her favorite oldies country tunes and dance with her Wii. Today she will lead Star, her pony and best friend for all the 23 years of their lives, down to the river where she’ll sit on a rock near the loner coyote’s den and contemplate the eagle perched high on the tiptop of the old “grandfather” tree.

Later, Cedar will attend bowling practice for Special Olympics. She has competed in Special Olympics since the third grade. She and Star have won countless equine competitions throughout the years with Bobbi as her coach. She is a Centered Riding instructor, horse trainer and is certified in Equine Assisted Learning. This winter Cedar will practice for the Special Olympics downhill skiing competitions at Big Mountain in her hometown of Whitefish.

In most everything she does, Cedar is strong willed and focused. Her Down syndrome does little to prevent her from completing her goals as an athlete.

“She wanted to be a high school cheerleader and she did it,” says Bobbi. At 16, her athletic 4’6 frame jumped easily four feet into the air touching both feet.

When Bobbi, at 43, was told she was expecting a child, she asked God not to give her more than she could handle and said, “This baby is in your hands”. She had endured heartbreaking challenges in her life, but the greatest had been the premature death of her first husband. She was left with two teenage boys to raise on a 47-acre horse ranch.

“I chose not to have an amniocentesis, so it was two days after Cedar’s birth I was told she had Down syndrome. There was very little information about it back then.”

When it came time for Cedar to start school, her parents pioneered their way into the school system says Wendy Wheeler, Cedar’s teacher’s aide for 12 years.

“They bulldogged their way through to mainstream her and chose to hold competitions throughout the years with Bobbi as her coach. She is a Centered Riding Instructor, horse trainer and is certified in Equine Assisted Learning. This winter Cedar will practice for the Special Olympics downhill skiing competitions at Big Mountain in her hometown of Whitefish.She was ready to apply herself.

After her parents divorced, Cedar and Bobbi were left to work the ranch alone. Bobbi can’t imagine her life without Cedar.

“Advocating for Cedar and those who work with her has changed my life. I’ve learned to live in the moment, not worry about things I can’t control. I would’ve stayed to myself more, but I have to get out there for her and all the things she loves to do. Involving her in Special Olympics allowed me to meet many others who have had to work out a lot on their own like me.”

Though Cedar likes vacations, she says, “I always want to come home to my dogs and horses.”

And return to the life she loves.

Carna Spinella is a freelance writer in Washington state.

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