The Sun burns over a hot, dry, dusty morning at ‘Mounted Branch’. It’s two days before the 2016 Equestrian Special Olympics, and Coach, Errol Grant, is busy laying out the course and finalising arrangements for the event. Phone calls need to be made, volunteers secured, plans for food sorted out, along with several other, similar, logistical challenges.
Errol Grant laughs a lot. He’s a solid man with a sturdy posture and hard hands. Growing up in rural Trinidad, Mr. Grant (as his many students call him), has a great comfort and enjoyment being around animals. Though retired now, he used to be Assistant Superintendent of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service Mounted and Canine Branch, and was once responsible for training and operations. He joined the force in 1969 and immediately upon leaving the barracks, joined Mounted Branch. “It’s been great!” he says enthusiastically, adding, “I have learnt to be a different individual. Long time [ago] I was hasty, but you learn to listen to people and understand why they’re behaving bad and leave them there [without engaging them].”
One important aspect of the Mounted Branch is its Civilian Riding Programme, which started around 1987. “That was to [build] a relationship [between] the public and police. [To] show them that the police is not all, ‘Lock up! Lock up! Lock up!'” This programme allows private citizens to attend classes and learn to ride for free, with weekly classes for beginners, as well as more advanced riders. It serves the dual function of also allowing the horses to remain in shape though regular exercise. An offshoot of the Civilian Riding Programme then became Mr. Grant’s engagement with the Special Olympics around 1996, and he still devotes his time to teaching children and adults with special needs today. He explains, “I got the chance to go on courses and learn [how to] deal with children with disabilities, and that came natural to me. So I’ve been working with them. And then when they included equestrian in Special Olympics, World Games, I started training people.”
Though the names are similar, the Special Olympics World Games are not to be confused with the Paralymic Games, which are more stringently organised and coincide with the Olympic Games. Mr. Grant explains that the Special Olympics are, “…for athletes with disabilities — Mental disabilities; intellectual disabilities; Down Syndrome; autistic children — those kinds of children that the world seemed to [have] left behind. We show the world that they can do just as good as [‘the world’] can. […] And I’m impressed with them,” he says, “…Trinidad is just a dot [on the map], and they go out there and they beat the world! Last one in Greece we got nine gold medals! The people in Greece knew our National Anthem by heart! They started singing it!”
Responding to the question of what he thinks drew him to working with persons with special needs, Mr. Grant responds, “I like to see things grow. I like agriculture — You plant a seed, you plant a tree,” then he continues, “And I hate disadvantage. So when I got the opportunity to work with these children, and to show that they could do better than the people who find themselves to be ‘normal’, that’s what I like.”
“What I learnt really is that anybody could do anything, no matter if you have disabilities or not — and you could do it really, really good — if you really want to do it. Yes! That is what I really learnt from this thing. You know [you could] push people, and they’ll do it, but they don’t really want to do it? But I’ve learnt that the people who are there and they push themselves — they always come out on top!”
UPDATE: On Republic Day, 24th September, 2017, Mr. Grant was awarded the Silver Hummingbird Medal for Community Service.