If you could be granted just one wish, what would it be? Attending the Calgary Stampede was the childhood dream and wish of a shy, 11-year-old boy from the eastern coast of Canada.
Cole Allen’s wish was granted by the Starlight Children’s Foundation and became more amazing than he imagined, as the details unfolded. "The Heavy Horse Committee was surprised and touched that an 11-year-old youngster with a life-threatening condition would wish to attend the Heavy Horse Show at Calgary–not the rodeo or chuckwagons, which are world famous, but the Heavy Horse Show," relates show announcer and 37-year volunteer Bruce Roy. When the committee then learned that Cole owned a Percheron mare and had experience showing, Committee member Jess Debnam persisted in offering him the opportunity to compete in the Youth Cart Class. Brian and Colleen Coleman, who manage the Percheron operations at Jackson Fork Ranch in Bondurant, Wyoming, generously offered this young horseman from New Brunswick the chance to show their stable's mare, Q.R.’s Irene, or "Queen," use their cart, harness and have the aid of their crew.
Cole was diagnosed at birth with Hirschsprung’s Disease, a congenital intestinal condition. His first surgery took place when he was just five days old and has affected his ability to be a normal 11-year-old. However you wouldn’t know it, talking to this passionate horseman.
On the evening of Saturday, July 7, at Stampede Park in Calgary, Cole could be spotted ringside before his class. Watching with his new friends and mentors in the Jackson Fork Ranch crew, Cole saw Brian, a native of Didsbury, Alberta, and a member of the Stampede's Heavy Horse Committee, drive their Registered Mare Unicorn to a class win. You could hear the excitement in announcer Bruce Roy’s voice throughout the evening performance. His statements such as “we’re going to surprise you all very shortly” enticed the audience.
Cole drove his horse and cart down into the Scotiabank Saddledome wearing a well-shaped straw cowboy hat and square-toed cowboy boots. He looked relaxed and like a natural horseman. Glowing with excitement, you could see the fire in Cole’s eyes as he drove Queen around the arena. He was being evaluated impartially, as the judges were unaware of his special wish! As an aspiring horseman, being mentored by Brian Coleman one-on-one would be priceless to many. As I watched Cole sit proudly in the cart beside Brian, tears of joy started streaming down my face. Cole was living his dream!
Anticipation grew as Bruce Roy called out the placings of the 11 competitors. When Cole’s amazing 2nd place finish was announced, the surprise unfolded! Bruce announced the special presentation for this “very special young man.” The Calgary Stampede and Heavy Horse show committee awarded Cole with a limited edition silver and gold Calgary Stampede Centennial belt buckle, which he proudly showed off by opening up the case and facing to the huge crowd. Jess Debnam, who bent over backwards to make this happen, then made a presentation. The generosity of the Heavy Horse community brought Jess to tears (he had “dust in his eyes”) announcing that they wanted to “Pay Forward Cole’s experience.” A check for $3,500 was presented to the Make-A-Wish Foundation® Southern Alberta by the Calgary Stampede on behalf of Cole Allen.
When Cole was asked over the microphone about his experience, he replied, “It was awesome!”
"Cole Allen was a most appreciative youngster," says Roy. "He was exceptionally polite and surprisingly competent handling a draft horse. When he expressed thanks center ring, everyone had dust in their eyes, other than Cole himself, who is a courageous youngster."
Cole was invited to take a victory lap with the class winner, as the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra played live music. Watch out Heavy Horse industry, there is a new kid on the block that is a force to be reckoned with!
Starlight Children’s Foundation blessed Cole, his sister Katelynn, mother Crystal, and step-father Darren with a trip to Calgary for the 100th Calgary Stampede! In addition to the unique opportunity to compete in the Heavy Horse show presented by Halliburton, Cole and his family watched the parade, rodeo, chuckwagon races and evening show from the best seats in the stands. Another highlight was the exclusive chance to spend over an hour with Country Music Artist, Paul Brandt. Cole was surprised by how down-to-earth Paul was!
Christopher Barry, President of Starlight Children’s Foundation explained that wishes are granted in four categories: 1) Tangible items, such as computers and bikes; 2) Meeting a celebrity; 3) Experienced-based wishes, such as being a ballerina for a day, and; 4) Trips, which Cole wished for. Barry explained that the goal is for trips to be taken to Canadian destinations, therefore adventures to Disneyland, Space Center, etc. are only made with special exception.
It was interesting to learn that the Starlight Children’s Foundation assists children with serious illnesses, whereas the foundation which you may be more familiar with, the Make-A-Wish Foundation® is for children with terminal diseases. In addition to granting wishes, Starlight offers in-hospital programs and local escapes to sporting events, etc. Over 2,500 wishes have been granted since Starlight Children’s Foundation Canada was founded in 1989. Affiliates are also located in the United States, Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom.
As a toddler, Cole’s late grandfather would read him The Draft Horse Journal as a bedtime story and Cole would point to all the black horses. Whenever The Draft Horse Journal arrived in the mail, “Cole spent more time inside as he read it cover-to-cover,” relates his grandmother, who has every issue back to about 1975. Cole showed for the first time before he was three–his enthusiasm has not only persisted, it's intensified. If you ask Cole what he wants to be when he grows up, his mother shared his plans are to “go out to western Canada and work in the oil patch for five years–then have his own horses and ranch!”
This life-changing opportunity has given Cole what his mother describes as a “huge morale boost.” He was honored to compete with Jackson Fork Ranch’s outstanding hitch mare, Queen.
Hats off to everyone that contributed to making Cole's "wish" a reality and donated to the pay it forward fund. "Start to finish," concludes Roy, "this was a first for the Heavy Horse Committee and for everyone involved–committee members, volunteers and exhibitors, who were generous in opening their wallets. This 11-year-old-boy captured the hearts of the audience and the Heavy Horse community. Keep chasing your dreams, Cole Allen–you are an inspiration to others."
Cole’s participation in the Calgary Stampede Heavy Horse show shared a valuable lesson. No matter your limitations, dream big and cross items off your bucket list today. What are you waiting for?
Connect with Robyn Beazley at www.robynbeazley.com