An upcoming horse show, hosted by the Vashon Maury Island Horse Association (VMIHA), will be held as a fundraising event to support Coulter Verharen, a 20-year-old islander who sustained a life-changing spinal cord injury this summer.
The event, starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23, at Paradise Ridge Park, will have a family-friendly focus on fun, said organizers Sarah George and Betsey Archambault.
The day’s lineup will include 18 games that include both mounted and unmounted events, and even a human steeplechase.
A pony will also be available for photos, petting and dress up, from 12-3 p.m.
Islanders are encouraged to bring their appetites: concessions including burgers, snacks and drinks will be provided by Vashon’s Guide Dog Association.
A silent auction, taking place throughout the day, will end at 5 p.m.
The horse show, said Archambault, will celebrate Coulter’s resiliency, demonstrate the island equestrian community’s love and support for him and his family, and raise much-needed financial support for his journey ahead.
“Coulter will have an exceptional amount of expenses as he continues on a brand new path that he hadn’t expected,” she said.
Coulter, the son of islanders Jen and Mike Verharen, is now paralyzed from the waist down — the result of an accident that took place in Wyoming on July 4, while he was competing in the Jackson Hole Rodeo as a bronco rider.
Following the accident, Coulter spent two weeks in intensive care, followed by six more weeks at Craig Hospital — a renowned facility in Denver that specializes in rehabilitation for individuals with spinal cord and brain injuries.
At this hospital, Coulter embarked on a steep learning curve that included driving a car with hand controls, handling horses, swimming, and navigating rough terrain in a wheelchair.
He has now returned to Afton, Wyoming, where he will continue to work for horse trainer, Jose Alejos. His plans include developing his leather crafting skills, adaptive skiing and eventually returning to the saddle once his back is healed.
Jen, Coulter’s mother, said Coulter feels deeply honored and appreciative of Vashon’s equestrian community for organizing the fundraiser, and that he hopes to attend the event.
Reached by phone in Wyoming, where she was spending time last week with Coulter, Jen said that finding accessible lodging on Vashon has proven to be difficult. Their family is now remodelling their barn to include a wheelchair-accessible apartment for Coulter will use when he visits and that will eventually provide a lodging opportunity for others in wheelchairs to visit the island.
She also spoke, with deep pride and awe, about Coulter’s unwavering concentration, since his accident, on adapting to his new life.
He has spent the last two months fiercely focused on the challenges of healing and continuing to live independently, she said.
Since July 4, Jen has movingly chronicled her son’s injury and rehabilitation in writing.
“In the last few years, Coulter has actively sought big challenges,” she wrote, shortly after his injury. “Eventing, free diving, rock climbing, scuba, avalanche rescue training, canyoneering, and most recently, bareback bronco riding. As he patiently explains to the nurses what he needs, asks questions about the purpose of everything they ask him to do and diligently does every exercise he’s given, it strikes me that this is just the next big challenge. A challenge that he did not choose but will meet with the same determination with which he has met all the others.”
She also shared an essay, written by Coulter, illustrating his matter-of-fact determination to move on with his life with purpose and determination.
The essay, in part, described Coulter’s experience at Craig Hospital.
“In addition to all of the basics that I was learning, I got many opportunities to put myself into unique and difficult situations that I would have to problem solve,” Coulter wrote. “…It was at these times that I got to learn about all of the unique equipment that can help me achieve a variety of tasks like crossing terrain that would be impossible for me to navigate in a normal wheelchair, or move around in a wheelchair faster than I could push myself. As I am returning to life after my rehab, I am facing a number of unique challenges as I learn what my life is going to be like. I am grateful for all of the excellent and supportive people that I have been surrounded with that have made this difficult time feel so much more hopeful.”
Tickets for participants in the fundraiser at Paradise Ridge Park, supporting Coulter’s future endeavors, cost $12 per game, or attendees can buy five tickets and get one free. A one-day pass to the event costs $100.
There is no cost to attend for spectators.
A GoFundMe online fundraiser for Coulter is also ongoing.