A Festival of Friends with Kelby Barranco

Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Dressage - Friday, February 10, 2017

Kristi Wysocki, USEF ‘S’, FEI 3* Para and ‘R’ Dressage Sport Judge, has known Kelby for 8 years Photo: Barranco Collection

Among the familiar faces at the dressage shows is that of Kelby Barranco of Boynton Beach, Florida who celebrated his twentieth birthday on the 20th of January. Kelby has been part of the Wellington Dressage community since 2006 when his mom began helping Kathie LaCroix at the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center during the night shift in the national and CDI barns checking on the horses every hour in case of an emergency for the riders, owners and trainers. When they switched to the day shift, Kelby helped his Mom check wristbands and that's when hundreds of caring relationships began between each of the equestrians and Kelby.  

Born with microcephaly (a rare neurological condition) and cerebral palsy, Kelby's original prognosis was poor. His mom, Monica Barranco was told that his life skills would be very limited in that his abilities to complete whole sentences and comprehend telling time were doubtful. That all changed when he began riding lessons at four years of age. “I first met with Monica and Kelby,” recalled LaCroix, “when Kelby was around 4 or 5 years old. Monica was looking for a riding instructor who was qualified to teach people with disabilities. She was given my name. She asked if I would be interested in teaching Kelby on his own horse. Of course, I was delighted!” Kelby rode his pony, Princess for a little more than 10 years until she passed away about four years ago at age 35.

More recently, interacting with riders and show management, combined with the physical demands of running tests, has continued to help his communication skills and physical stamina immeasurably. Kelby has the chance to meet many world class dressage stars such as Jacquie Brooks, Juan Matute, Ashley Holzer, Steffen Peters, and a special horse that was destined for gold in a few short years named Valegro. In 2013, Kelby was named Youth Volunteer of The Year by USDF. LaCroix is very proud of Kelby, “I’ve seen him grow in confidence and watched him develop into a responsible young man who takes his work seriously."

Monica Fitzgerald, show manager for the Adequan Global Dressage Festival (AGDF) first enlisted the Barrancos to work the day shift at the CDI barn. From the very beginning, the show staff has always made Kelby feel trustworthy in his tasks and assignments. Several years ago at AGDF, show manager legend Lloyd Landkamer gave the young man permission to use a walkie-talkie during assignments which has helped Kelby form complete sentences and become more keen about what goes on around him. Judges will often request that Kelby contact the show office, Technical Delegate or Steward. Of the many hundreds of details that make a show run smoothly, Kelby helps to make a difference.

Kristi Wysocki, USEF ‘S’, FEI 3* Para and ‘R’ Dressage Sport Judge, has known Kelby for 8 years, “It seems like we’ve watched him grow up from just a kid to now being a young adult. It’s been delightful to get to know him. I remember when he would fall asleep on the back of the golf cart when helping out with the night watch and now he’s watching over the rings all on his own at times. He’s a delightful young man and it’s been so much fun to watch him come to play a major role in the sport at the competitions all over the country.“ She added, “He was a huge help to me as the coordinator at Colorado’s Young Riders in 2016. I couldn’t have done it without him. I think he’s taken on one of the major roles in helping this sport in this country.” 

Roberta Williams, Chairwoman of the USDF FEI Junior/Young Riders Committee also looked back at working with Kelby, “I got to know him many years ago when he worked the security for the CDI barn at the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center. His personality just came through as the riders smiled at him when they entered. He’s a darling of the dressage community. We’ve watched him grow into quite a nice young man and we take great joy in his achievements. He’s our good luck charm. He’s wonderful.”

After the 2016 Wellington season wrapped up, Kelby continued to work at many top shows throughout the rest of the year beyond Florida. Logging nearly 15,000 air miles in 2016, he worked at venues such as Tryon, Devon, NAJYRC, and Central Park, NY.Valegro, Kelby and Alan Davies Photo: Barranco Collection

Every trip has been extended by a day or more to explore their surroundings. Highlights of their fun included mountain trail rides on horseback, train rides, a helicopter ride over Charleston Harbor, a visit to the USS Yorktown, a tour through an underground mine tunnel and climb to the summit of Pike’s Peak.

In New York they visited the 911 Memorial and Museum, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island where Kelby found his great grandfather’s name inscribed on the Wall of Immigrants. Mother and son also had a special moment reuniting with Alan Davies and Valegro at the Central Park show where they chatted about first meeting in the quarantine barn back in 2013 at the World Dressage Masters.

Monica sighed with relief, “The dressage community has certainly become our family in helping to nurture Kelby into the caring and confident person he is today. They say it takes a village to raise a child and this is our village. It’s a safe environment and Kelby has been given opportunities to learn and grow. We’re both so grateful.”

The team at the New York Central Park Horse Show Photo: Barranco Collection