Gainesville, GA (CBS46)

Since 1970, Special Olympics has changed the perception of what an athlete looks like and that competition isn't always about winning but about acceptance.

It's something that became clear as CBS46 spent time with the Forsyth County team as they prepare for the state competition.

This weekend Alex Ham-Kucharski will put his horsemanship skills to the test. After months of training with his riding partner Lilly, he's going for the gold at this year's Special Olympics State Horse Show.

“I feel very confident riding horses,” says Ham-Kucharski. “Although sometimes the tournaments can be nerve-wracking but I don't show it for the horses.

Thousands of athletes from across the state are expected to compete in events that include dressage and showmanship.

This will be Alex's 4th year competing.

“It can be tough but I've gotten a couple of gold medals with Special Olympics Forsyth,” continued Ham-Kucharksi.

Edie Ahola helps train the athletes here at Bear Foot Ranch in Gainesville, which offers recreational horse therapy.

There are 21 athletes on the Forsyth County team, some who train year around at the ranch. They learn general horse care and how to ride.

“It changes a lot of people's perceptions because they realize just because they might have some kind of special need, doesn't mean they can't do something,” said Ahola. “I have some athletes who ride that are in wheelchairs.”

The connection between the athletes and horses is powerful.

At 2 years old, Ham-Kucharski was diagnosed with profound hearing loss, autism and cerebral palsy. His mother Dawn says horse riding has not only given her son speech and motor skills but prepared him for everyday life.

“All the confidence he gets from just competing, being on that horse and being with his team and fellow athletes that spurs him on to success in all aspects for his life,” said his mother Dawn Ham-Kucharski.

The Special Olympics State Fall games and horse show is a three-day event which kicks off Saturday in Gainesville.

Click here for more information on the event.

Copyright 2018 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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