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Houston Rodeo Hosts Some Special Visitors

Cowboys from all over North America are down in Texas this week for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which is billed as the biggest event of its kind in the world.

But, as big as it is, there are some small things that make it special. VOA's Greg Flakus has more in this report from Houston.

The Houston Rodeo takes place in one of the biggest stadiums in the world.

Tens of thousands of people fill the stands of the Reliant Stadium to see events like calf roping, bronco and bull-riding.

The rodeo is a big event with big animals and big cowboys wearing big hats.

But every year, rodeo organizers set time aside for a small event for some small people, called the "Little Rustlers."

Each year, The Houston Rodeo's Special Children's Committee selects 45 children between the ages of four and 12 who have medical conditions or disabilities to experience the cowboy activities up close. Committee Chair Brenda Short says it is a special thrill for the kids.

"Some of them are cancer-stricken, some have cerebral palsy, and it is just the highlight of their life for them," she said. "To watch their parents and see them come alive as they watch their kids out here, it is just a neat experience, very heartwarming."

Coming to an event like this is a new experience for Diane Luna's four-year-old son Gabriel, who is still recovering from a disease that once threatened his life.

"He was diagnosed with leukemia when he was ten-and a-half-months old and he had a bone marrow transplant almost two years ago," she said. "We are still working on his walking, but they expect that he will be walking real soon, so he has come a long way and is doing real good."

One of the stars of the Houston Rodeo is trick rider Nikki Moran, a native of Canada who has worked with disabled children there as well. She says the chance to interact with a big horse means a lot to these little children.

"We find that these kids just love the horses," she said. "They love getting up there and feeling so tall and riding around and it just makes my day to see them smile like that."

There is a smile painted on the face of professional rodeo clown Leon Coffee, who helps distract angry bulls and horses after a rider has fallen.

But, as demanding as his work may be, he takes time every year to work with the Little Rustlers event.

"I know it puts a big smile on my face to see these kids out here having a good time," he said. "We know that they will never be the rodeo athletes that we have out here at the Houston Rodeo, but we need to bring something to them and that is what we are doing."

For many parents and special children, this small event is the biggest and most important part of the yearly rodeo and something they will always cherish.