Kelby Barranco Top Dressage Volunteer


The saying goes, “There’s something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man.” Whoever coined that might have had Kelby Barranco in mind. Despite being born with microcephaly and cerebral palsy, this amazing young man hasn’t let that, or much of anything else, get in his way. His mother, Monica, credits horses with much of his progress.

“Horses changed his life,” she said. “He started hippotherapy at three and a half. He never walked or talked until he got on a horse. He has advanced so much over the years, both academically and in life skills; things like telling time and speaking in full sentences.”

“I love to ride all the time,” Kelby said. “It’s fun to be around horses. It feels so nice to ride them. And I feel very proud to win the award.”

Indeed, Kelby won quite a prestigious award, the 2013 United States Dressage Federation Youth Volunteer of the Year, which recognizes an outstanding youth who has contributed at least 25 volunteer hours both nationally and locally to the USDF and dressage.

“We heard that he had been selected the end of October,” Monica recalled. “We felt extremely proud. I couldn’t believe it. I had to read it over three times. It’s a dream come true. I’m extremely thankful to the dressage community for all their support.”

Kelby, who is just about to turn 17, began his career on Princess, his first pony, with whom he won more than 100 ribbons and 17 trophies. After Princess died, he found Emma’s Pearl, a Standardbred mare. But it’s not just about riding. In 2013, Kelby volunteered more than 750 hours at various horse shows.

“He is always the first to greet the riders with a smile and offer a helping hand in unloading when they arrive,” said Robyn Weston, who nominated him for the award. “He helps as ring steward, test runner, and assists with the CDIs at the security gate, directs traffic in the parking lots and loves to run errands. His passion for horses and dressage is contagious, and his positive and friendly attitude has made him a local celebrity and positive role model.”

Kelby became good friends with top Italian dressage rider Silvia Rizzo during the World Dressage Masters competition in Wellington. One of Kelby’s jobs was watching Silvia’s horse, Donnerbube 2, in the quarantine facility, making sure no unauthorized people came in contact with him.

Monica and Kelby traveled to Lexington, Ky., and received the award on Dec. 7, at the 2013 Adequan/USDF Annual Convention. It was presented by Roberta Williams, chair of the USDA FEI Junior/Young Rider Committee.
“The Youth Volunteer of the Year is a prestigious award which honors one outstanding youth volunteer who has contributed on a national basis to USDF’s mission: dedication to education, the recognition of achievement and promotion of dressage,” Roberta explained in her presentation speech.

In an interview Roberta said she had been delighted to vote for Kelby. “It was just astonishing that he had over 700 volunteer hours,”

Roberta said. “Everyone knows and loves him. He’s a fixture at the shows. Presenting him with the award was a delightful honor. I think we were all a little misty-eyed. I’ll never forget it. It was quite an honor to be up there with him.”

Lauren Griffin, who chairs the Youth Programs Advisory Subcommittee, agreed.

“Sometimes we have the rare opportunity to have our lives blessed by someone who goes above and beyond what is asked of them,” Lauren said during the presentation. “They make us laugh, and even sometimes cry. Occasionally, even both at the same time. They inspire us to set our goals higher. They encourage us to work harder. Our USDF Youth Volunteer of the Year is such a person. Not only does he overcome his individual setbacks with style, but he charms us with his intellect and humor. We are all truly honored to have him amongst our ranks.”

Lauren noted Kelby’s enthusiasm on helping the sport of dressage while also being an active participant.

“Even with this passion of competing in the dressage world, Kelby finds time to selflessly volunteer,” she said. “I could not be more grateful for everything Kelby has done. He has given back to the community more than a lot of us have, and I truly admire his passion, dedication and hard work now and for the time to come. This young man is inspirational.”

Kelby thanked everyone, mostly forgetting the speech he’d practiced and prepared.

“I’m so excited! I’d like to thank Robyn for nominating me for this award. Special thanks to my mom who is always there for me. And to Noreen and John — they gave me the chance to help at the horse shows,” he said. “I am honored to receive this award from USDF. It has allowed me to be a part of a wonderful group that brings horses and people together. They provide opportunities to riders of all levels and abilities.”

He explained how his life has changed because of dressage.

“I was born with health problems. My mom took me for riding lessons. And soon after, I got my first horse, Princess. She was my partner for years in shows. She seemed to understand me even when my aids were confusing. We had many wonderful rides together. When she left me due to old age, Emma was donated to me and is now my riding partner,” Kelby said. “Because of the people my mom and I met at the shows, I found myself in the dressage world. My goal is to ride in the Paralympics. This dream would not be possible without all the help of the wonderful people that make up the USDF. Thanks again to the USDF and all the hard work they do.”

“Kelby was treated like a real celebrity by everyone there,” Monica said. “At the gala awards banquet, in the hotel, even at the airport. And Kelby saw snow for the first time.”

Kelby’s next goal is to find a horse to compete with at the Paralympics.

“Although they have Emma’s Pearl, she’s not really suited for Kelby to show at the Paralympics, which is his next goal,” said friend Sharon Packer of Horse Sports Photography. “I’ve known Monica and Kelby a long time. Monica hesitates to ask for help. Kelby needs a safer horse, very gentle and calm who doesn’t get stressed at shows, a 100 percent solid citizen who doesn’t have to have a dressage background, any age or size, as long as the horse has the right temperament. We could also use sponsors to donate and help Kelby’s next dream of riding in the Paralympics come true. No amount is too small. We started a campaign asking people to give up drinking one coffee or latte and donating that money instead. Both Monica and Kelby are two of the finest people I’ve ever met. I’d like to see their dreams come true.”

If someone has a good horse that might be suitable for Kelby, give Monica a call at (561) 352-7001. They have also established a nonprofit, Kelby and Emma’s Pearl Dream Corporation, with IberiaBank.