Queen of The Chisholm Challenge: Mary Nelson

Queen of The Chisholm Challenge: Mary Nelson

Queen of The Chisholm Challenge: Mary Nelson

by Barbara-Scott Kolb


An 11-year old girl from Argyle decided to pursue a dream, and she is quickly becoming a shining example of ambition and fearlessness to young boys and girls who want to follow her lead. Mary Nelson, who was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at six months old, has taken her passion for horses and turned it into a successful career in the sport of horse showing. She participated in her first horse show at the 2018 Chisholm Challenge and earned 1st place in Wheelchair Showmanship and is now among the first competitors to participate in a power chair at the American Quarter Horse Association shows.

Utilizing her power chair and a robotic arm, Mary has been able to groom and train horses for competition and is enjoying every minute of it. She is currently in a training program at Stable Strides Farm, where she began working with owner Mandy Cleveland to improve her showmanship. After joining the program, Mary has partnered up with a stallion named Captain, and the duo have been competing throughout the country ever since.

“I grew up showing horses and competing in AQHA shows, so to see my daughter compete in a power wheelchair in one of these shows made my heart burst with joy,” Mary’s mother, Kate Nelson said. “She takes her training very seriously, as she should, and we are forever grateful for the opportunity to work at Stable Strides Farm.”

Although spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a rare disease, it is often quite aggressive; the condition has no cognitive effect but is identified by the loss of motor neurons, which weakens the muscles and impairs mobility. This disorder could have damaged Mary’s lively, vivacious spirit, but her mother guaranteed that whatever activity she wanted to pursue, they would find a way to make it happen. With the assistance from orthotic devices and appropriate training programs, Mary continues to flourish in her career of horse showing.

The Nelson family’s goal is to spark a fire within the hearts of young boys and girls to reach out of their comfort zone – and beyond their disabilities – to pursue any dream that might be tucked away because of fear or lack of ambition. Through her own perseverance, Mary encourages others and continues to stand as a constant example of fearlessness. Enduring the nerves of competing at the recent Chisholm Challenge, located at the John Justin Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, a headstrong Mary gleefully approached the competition with a horse she has become quite fond of.

“I was a little bit nervous, but Captain and I had a great time at the Chisholm Challenge. I enjoy working with horses because they are very calming and can also be your best friend,” Mary said. “Showing horses is a great way to meet new friends and work with animals. And trust your horse, because your horse trusts you.”

The Nelsons hope Mary’s journey and success will inspire fellow equestrians and encourage horse shows and training facilities to implement a more suitable program for those with disabilities. Mary is anxiously awaiting her next opportunity to compete, which will take place this May. Mary stated, “Working with Captain and volunteering to help other horses get ready for competition has given me more confidence and a sense of responsibility.”


photo courtesy of Kate Nelson

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  1. clint
    clint 18 May, 2019, 18:25

    Very inspiring. Great article.

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