The sun began to set on the Bourbon County Fair in June as a large crowd gathered for the annual mutton-bustin' competition. Throughout the event, children competed to see who could hold onto a bucking sheep the longest.
An announcer over the loudspeakers introduced an exhibition round. The crowd watched as a 12-year-old boy was lifted from his wheelchair and onto the back of a sheep. The realization that the boy was going to compete drew whispers of concern from onlookers.
"The next contestant competing is 'Little' Tuff Hedeman, riding the bull Bodacious," he said referring to the boy's favorite bull-riding champion and his bull.
With a loud creak, the gate that held the sheep and the boy opened, and the sheep took off.
The boy held on for as long as he could, but after just a few seconds, the sheep threw him to the ground and scurried away.
A stunned silence hung in the air. Then, as if on cue, the crowd yelled and applauded as the boy was picked up and placed back into his wheelchair. The crowd probably couldn't see it, but the smile on his face signaled to his family that he wanted to ride on the sheep once more.
Trent Shannon is a lot like any other mutton-bustin' competitor in his love of adventure, risk-taking and fun. But this small-town cowboy was diagnosed with severe quadriplegic cerebral palsy when he was 9 months old; the entire right side of his brain was missing.
All hopes of Trent ever living a normal life seemed lost, until a doctor gave his family hope: Treat him as you would any other kid, the doctor suggested. Expect him to do everything other kids can do, and accept the things he can't do.
Ever since, that's exactly what they have done.
"No, Trent cannot walk or stand, but that doesn't stop him from doing the things he loves," said Trent's grandmother Tammy Shannon. "He brings joy into my life and the lives of others. There's rarely a moment when he doesn't have a smile on his face."
Trent can't walk or even stand, and he can't speak clearly, but he has far exceeded the abilities of a child with his diagnosis.
A big fan of the University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball and football teams, Trent always wanted to play sports. As a part of the Toyota Bluegrass Miracle League, Trent has participated in baseball and football games. He also is a big superhero fan, with pictures of Spider-Man on his leg braces and a superhero-themed bedroom.
Following the doctor's recommendation, his family encourages Trent to do anything he sets his mind to, regardless of obstacles.
As a full-time horse trainer, his mother, Jessica Shannon, fully intended for Trent to ride. At 6 months, he was in the saddle by his mother's side. By the time Trent was 8, he was riding his own horse with the help of a modified handicap saddle.
Trent has visited more than 15 states, and he has ridden through the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota. Trent won a blue ribbon at the Kentucky Mountain International Horse Show. He continues to ride horses daily on his Rocky Mountain horse, Jerry.
Now entering sixth grade, Trent continues to receive physical, occupational and speech therapy twice a week. An important factor in his motor-control progress has been hippotherapy, which incorporates horses to improve his sensorimotor and neuromotor systems.
"Riding horses really has done wonders for his physical therapy," said Trent's physical therapist, Delanna Turley. "Riding a horse works the same muscles and joints from the hip upward as a person would walking. Our long-term goal is for Trent to be able to stand."
Just like any other boy, Trent is always on the go, constantly wanting to be moving. Whether it's on the back of bucking sheep or on his spring horse, "Sissy," Trent is likely to be found in the stable yard, wearing his favorite riding chaps and a big grin, and his thoughts are probably on riding.