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SD teen with heart defect able to meet rodeo idols

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SD teen with heart defect able to meet rodeo idols
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

RAPID CITY (AP) — A South Dakota teen who has dreamed of being a cowboy despite a congenital heart defect got his wish when he rubbed elbows recently with the best rodeo riders in the country.

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Tucker Varns, 15, of Spearfish, loves horses and rodeo, especially bull riding and bucking bronc events. Although has been riding specially trained horses for five years, his heart condition makes it too risky for him to ride a rodeo horse.

But he got up close and personal with the pros earlier this week at Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo. He was able to go behind the scenes to talk with the riders and have them autograph a special cowboy hat. He and his parents had front-row seats.

His mother, Dixie, said being around horses and rodeos is Tucker's "comfort zone," the Rapid City Journal reported. 

"It's amazing what this atmosphere does for him," she said.

Tucker was only days old when doctors discovered that he was missing a left ventricle after his parents rushed him to the hospital when he was having trouble breathing and refusing to eat. He subsequently had four open-heart surgeries. He has also undergone four pacemaker surgeries.

His love of horses was furthered five years ago when he began riding horses with the SunCatcher Therapeutic Riding Academy in Rapid City. His dad, Terry, said it was fun for Tucker and it also helped him gain better movement in his leg muscles and improve his delayed speech.

Tucker said it was just fun.

"I like to get out and ride," he said. "I learned about horses. How to take care of them, get them water, wash them, walk them with their halter, help saddle them and take their saddle off."

The riding academy and Children's Western Wish Foundation set up the rodeo event, which left Dixie as thrilled as her son.

"It just warms my heart," she said. "Just to know that they (the cowboys) have a lot going on, but they take the time to answer his questions. It's just overwhelming."

Associated Press