Emily Ward has been a Special Olympics Minnesota athlete for over 17 years, first getting involved in the movement in 2006. She has competed in bowling, swimming, track and field, softball and powerlifting, and in high school, Emily discovered her passion for horseback riding.

She was introduced to the world of equestrian events when she participated in a therapeutic horseback riding program. She fell in love with the calming nature of riding, as well as the horses themselves. “Horses are and have been a big part of my life,” says Emily.

As she got more comfortable in the ring, the horseback riding that originally began as therapy quickly transitioned into a competitive outlet for Emily. Over the years, she has competed in countless equestrian events both with Special Olympics Minnesota and through other community programs.

As a result, Emily’s social skills have improved, and her confidence has skyrocketed. So much so, that she competed in equestrian at the national level in the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games. Emily attended the June competition in Orlando, Florida as Special Olympics Minnesota’s sole equestrian athlete. She represented Team Minnesota well, taking home a bronze medal in horsemanship, silver in barrels and gold in pole bending. “I’m very proud of all my accomplishments,” says Emily. “I try not to let anything get in my way with having a disability. I know that I can do anything I set my mind to.”

Even if she had left USA Games without any medals, Emily would be a champion based solely on her outstanding sportsmanship.

Emily embodied what it means to be a Special Olympics Minnesota athlete at the national competition. While on the awards stage at USA Games, she took the time to shake hands with each and every one of her competitors to congratulate them on a job well done.

At every competition, whether it be national or local, Emily goes out of her way to thank the volunteers and staff on site for hosting the event. She credits Special Olympics Minnesota for her stellar sportsmanship skills. “Special Olympics has taught me about good sportsmanship and being able to congratulate others,” says Emily with a smile. “I love being a part of it.”

Thank YOU, Emily, for being a champion of inclusion! We are so happy to see her success through Special Olympics’ inclusive programming. Thousands of individuals like Emily are finding their power through Special Olympics Minnesota every day.

Video description: Emily and her equestrian coach, Sue, are interviewed about their experience with Special Olympics Minnesota and how inclusion in sports has impacted their lives. Some clips show Emily practicing at Sue’s farm near North Branch, Minnesota. Other footage shows Emily competing at the 2022 USA Games in Orlando, Florida.