First time, first place for rider
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
Cole Weiser said sitting atop a horse this weekend made him feel like he was "on top of the world."
Weiser was all smiles as he got down off that horse following Sunday's open class horse show at the Ellis County Fair in Hays.
But it might be a long time before the 22-year-old former Hays resident comes down from the high he experienced in his first horse show.
By winning the disabled rider division in the show, an inaugural class this year, Weiser made Ellis County Fair history.
It almost was too much for him to wrap his mind around on the pleasant summer morning with temperatures in the 80s at the rodeo arena of the Ellis County Fairgrounds.
He bubbled with enthusiasm as he sat straight and tall in the saddle in the middle of the arena, and he stretched his left arm high with his index finger pointing to the sky.
"I got first," became Weiser's mantra of the day as he showed everyone he came in contact with his purple first-place ribbon.
That, and the fact he will turn 23 on Aug. 14.
Weiser lives with his dad, Troy Weiser, in Hutchinson but often visits his adoptive mother, Christy Stejskal, in Hays.
Stejskal is manager of supervised living homes for Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas in Hays, and Johanna Musgrove, a local self-proclaimed horse lover, works at one of those group homes.
Musgrove came up with the idea of adding a class for disabled riders to the open-class horse show this year and got it approved by the fair board.
Stejskal asked Musgrove if Weiser could enter the contest and if Musgrove would give him tips beforehand.
Weiser's first time -- ever -- on a horse was Saturday.
He and Musgrove's horse, Kota, hit it off immediately.
"He picked up a brush and started brushing her right away," Musgrove said. "Then we helped him get right up on her -- no fear."
"This young man went from never being on a horse to being in a horse show in two days," said Musgrove, who believes strongly in the theory that bonding with animals is therapeutic. "Riding a horse allows you to lock a door on things that cause you stress and open another one that lets you enjoy the moment."
A lot of people enjoyed Weiser's moment of stardom Sunday, and Stejskal said she "was truly amazed how he adapted to the horse."
Weiser has been surprising people for more than 18 years.
When he was 4, he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a vehicle accident north of Hays in which his birth mother died in a head-on collision with another car.
Weiser was flown by air ambulance to a Wichita hospital, where he spent four and a half months fighting for his life.
His family had signed papers to donate his organs when doctors told the Weisers he probably wouldn't survive the first night.
If only they could see him now.
The injuries left Weiser with disabilities similar to a stroke victim, his mom said, and he had to relearn how to walk and talk. He has undergone multiple surgeries and hours of speech, occupational and physical therapy.
"The left side of his head was cracked open, so it injured the left side of his brain, affecting the right side of his body," Stejskal said.
Weiser's right arm has atrophied through the years, and he wears a brace on his right foot for stability. His cognitive skills are similar to those of a 7- or 8-year-old.
It doesn't slow him down much, though.
"Uncle Vern, I got first," Weiser told Vern Herrman from La Crosse as family members walked up to greet him after he picked up his ribbon.
"They spelled 'last' wrong," Herrman teased while inspecting his nephew's new prize.
Weiser is active in many sports in the Special Olympics program in Hutchinson and has won many medals at a variety of competitions through the years.
But that one purple strip of silk that read "first place" with "Ellis County Fair" imprinted on it forever will be a treasure, Weiser's mom said.
So, too, will that feeling of being on top of the world.
"Seeing how happy that made Cole," Stejskal said, "we were all on top of the world today."