OKLAHOMA CITY — She eyed the dusty ground as helping hands lifted her onto the saddle, placed her feet in the oversized stirrups and guided her fingers to their place on the reins. She smiled nervously as she felt the horse’s weight shift impatiently.

“I’m ready,” she said.

Five-year-old Madi Current, of Edmond, rode a horse named Midas for the first time Oct. 17 at Gerry Shepherd’s Covey Creek Cattle Company in South Oklahoma City as part of the 4th Annual Oklahoma National Guard Adjutant General’s Horseback Heroes.

Close to 125 participants, ages 5-16 rode horses, played with farm animals, dressed mini horses, learned how to properly groom and care for horses, saw how horse feed is made and tried their eager hands at roping.

Madi said her favorite part of the day was flicking the reins while she rode a horse, something every participant got the chance to do while volunteers guided the horses around the arena.

More than 160 volunteers provided supplies, experience and helping hands. Some of the volunteers are associated with the Oklahoma National Guard while others were from the Blanchard FFA, Sunset Therapeutic Riding Center, Grey Eagles, Express Ranch, 4-H Club, Reason to Believe and Silver Wind Stables, who provided nearly 30 horses for the event.

“I love just being with the kids,” said Peyton Nix, of Midwest City, who participated in events like this as a child of an Oklahoma Army National Guard member and is involved as an adult volunteer this year. “It’s fun for me because I get to see the kids again. I’ve known most of these kids for a long, long time and it’s great to see the new faces too.”

The event not only allows the participating children a peek into the life of a rancher, but it also creates friendships that will last through the deployments of their family members.

“I think it’s important for them to be around other military kids,” said Madi’s mother, Kelly Current. “It’s like a family here, and I just wish everyone in the world was like this.”

Madi’s father and Kelly’s husband, Lt. Col. Tom Current, a member of the 137th Air Refueling Wing Civil Engineering Squadron at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base in Oklahoma City, has deployed three times, one of which caused him to miss the birth of Madi, the middle child of three.

The Horseback Heroes event began three years ago as a way for children like Madi to forget about the stresses of having deployed parents. The first year had about 65 children registered and that number increases every year.

Maj. Gen. Robbie Asher, the adjutant general for Oklahoma, hosted the event this year for the first time since taking command of the Oklahoma National Guard in February. He said he believes the support of the community during this event is crucial for Oklahoma National Guard members and their children.

“We are blessed to live in such a great state,” said Asher. “We enjoy the support of Oklahomans from all across the state, and we are very thankful that they appreciate the military.”

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