By: Jessi Maness & Leigh Greenwood

Many a word can be written to extol the virtues of Nashville’s famed artists, entertainers, athletes and sports heroes, but there are none so impressive as those stories that highlight children who excel in the world of sports and the arts. Please join us as we celebrate the hard work, the creativity and the efforts from some of the finest young folks Nashville has helped to develop.

We turn our attention first to the world of sports. Horsemanship is an athletic endeavor enjoyed for millennia, and the bond between horse and rider is, arguably, the closest in the animal world. Here in the Nashville area, we are proud to have Saddle Up!, a remarkable organization that began with the vision to create a therapeutic riding program for children. Over 20 years and thousands of benefiting riders later, Saddle Up! is now a thriving program offering a wide range of services to children of all ages and abilities. Executive Director Cheryl Scutt confirmed that this wonderful program has grown tremendously. “Saddle Up! first started with a borrowed farm, borrowed horses and borrowed tack. There were 10 students one night a week, in good weather and daylight only with 30 volunteers.” Now Saddle Up! is considered the premiere destination for children who would benefit from the physical and emotional aspects that only experience with a horse can provide. Saddle Up! has provided services to 130 students during just this past spring session alone with seven full-time employees, 24 part-time employees, 27 horses and over 230 volunteers each week.

Connor Bosse and his horse Red. / Photo by Chandler Camp

Connor Bosse and his horse Red. / Photo by Chandler Camp

One such rider is young 12-year-old Connor Bosse, Saddle Up!’s 2011 Companionship Award winner, given annually to the one student who displays the strongest bond between horse and rider. Connor has been riding with Saddle Up! for a number of years, and his horsemanship skills in the saddle have continued to provide remarkable benefits, helping Connor to progress leaps and bounds with his diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Connor’s mother Jill related, “When he started, he couldn’t even sit up on the horse. When he had his walker and he got on the horse, it was great.” Indeed, Connor has progressed to such a remarkable level that he rides independently and can command his horse Red with just a word. “At our Super Show each year, all the kids participate. They each do three events and everybody gets a ribbon. Connor announced that he was going into the ring completely off line. He didn’t want anyone leading him. He wanted to do this part completely on his own, and that was a huge undertaking – for him to have the confidence to do that. And he did it,” his mother proudly stated.

Saddle Up!’s programs provide benefits far beyond the physical strength obtained by regular horseback riding. Cheryl summed it up well when she described the additional benefits Saddle Up! provides. “This is a ‘can do’ place, because a lot of people in general are told a lot in life, ‘You can’t do this’ or ‘You can’t do that,’ but especially kids with challenges. This is the ‘can do’ place. This is what we want our kids to feel and do, because they cando it, and anything they can do, we want them to do.”

At Saddle Up!, it is clear that all kids are equal in the saddle. In fact, when asked what his favorite part of Saddle Up! was, I bet you’d never guess what Connor chose. “I like to muck stalls,” Connor boasted. A true hero of the schoolyard, Connor and his horse Red are exceptional examples of horsemanship, of determination and of downright hard work. Mucking stalls and all.

For more information on Saddle Up!, please visit http://www.saddleupnashville.org/ or call (615) 794-1150.

We now turn our attention to the world of arts and entertainment. Never in history has our world moved so fast. We race to work and back in our cars, we are constantly on our phones, we have high-speed Internet, high-speed texting thumbs, games on phones or movies in headrests to occupy our children and whatever else you can name that is meant to “deliver” something quickly to us. Whatever it is, it better come with speed, lest it fall by the wayside.

But thankfully, not EVERYTHING that catches our attention is related to the electronic age. Well, not directly. We also have family, friends, talent, music, art, laughter, dancing, and many other things to fill our lives.

One young man has a combination of several of these things already filling his young life.

Jackson performing at his album release party. / Photo by Jay Thatcher.

Jackson performing at his album release party. / Photo by Jay Thatcher.

Having only recently turned 15, Jackson is already sought out for public appearances and has released his first album titled “The Path.” Can we say, “Move over, LeAnn Rimes?” “The Path” consists of 11 songs, all written and performed by Jackson and produced by Jackson’s dad. Young Jackson has already appeared on FOX-17’s Tennessee Mornings at Douglas Corner during CMA Fest, where he received a standing ovation from a packed house!

We spoke with Jackson as he traveled to a Christian music camp, and we found him to be a shy yet very talented and knowledgeable young man.

Jackson relates that he picked up the guitar because he wasn’t very good at sports. His dad Jay – who is a drummer – decided to get his son a guitar for Christmas, just to see what might come of it. Jackson says that once he picked it up, he felt a real attraction for it. He hasn’t put it down since.

CD cover for Jackson Thatcher's “The Path.”

CD cover for Jackson Thatcher’s “The Path.”

He began taking lessons from Mike Bauer, who teaches at the Nolensville Guitar Academy, and in less than four years, Jackson himself is an assistant instructor. He gets to help other students if they’re having a hard time in the class, and he refers to this opportunity as “an awesome experience.” Jackson continues, “I love getting to meet new young players and helping them, because it really helps me, too – to do that.”

Further, Jackson has had more than a handful of lessons with nationally recognized Pete Huttlinger. “Mike Bauer has always been a mentor to me, and when he saw how interested I was in finger style guitar, he really encouraged me. He’s the one who recommended Pete [Huttlinger], because that’s the style he plays. I’ve learned a great deal from him already,” Jackson says.

Does Jackson plan to go to college? Well, he really hasn’t gotten that far yet. At this point he still feels he wants to be a musician, and if he does go to college, he’ll go to study music and further his passion.

Jackson Thatcher during set-up. / Photo by Jay Thatcher.

Jackson Thatcher during set-up. / Photo by Jay Thatcher.

And how did he end up in the limelight? What about all those personal appearances? Jackson is quick to credit his mom for all her hard work. “It seems like I started playing here or there, and someone would come up and ask me to play for them at a different venue. But it didn’t JUST happen like that. My mom spends a lot of time on the phone calling places and asking them if I could play and things like that. And Crystal Caviness helps us a lot. She’s a friend of my parents, and she’s really helped out a lot.” (Crystal Caviness is a publicist at Nashville Music Promotions.)

Well someone is definitely doing SOMETHING right! Because Jackson Thatcher is burning up the media waves here in Nashville, Tenn. And if you want to get out and support the young guitarist, you may just find him at venues like Puckett’s in Nashville, Puckett’s Boathouse in Franklin, Mama’s Java in Nolensville or the Nolensville Feed Mill.

For more information on Jackson Thatcher or to pick up a copy of his new album, visit jacksonthatcher.com

Kiya Smith presents one of her paintings / Photo by Bill Hobbs.

Kiya Smith presents one of her paintings / Photo by Bill Hobbs.

Another heroic artist here in our creative Nashville community is Kiya Smith. Kiya is only 11 years old, but she already enjoys creating art from many different art mediums. She creates pillows, purses, paintings and sculptures. Possibly the most unusual thing about Kiya’s art is that even for her very young age, she prefers repurposing as one of her favorite art forms.

According to Kiya’s mom LaQuita, her daughter has always been creative. As far as she can remember, there was no specific pivotal moment that turned Kiya to art. She just seemed to be creative from the very start.

We had an opportunity to ask Kiya just a few questions about her artistic ambitions.

S&E: Kiya, how long have you been doing art?

Kiya: I have been doing art ever since I was old enough to pick up a pencil. I really started to develop once I started school.

S&E: What made you decide to get into doing art?

Kiya creates animal sculptures from the Babybel Cheese wax / Photo by Bill Hobbs.

Kiya creates animal sculptures from the Babybel Cheese wax / Photo by Bill Hobbs.

Kiya: I just love to create beautiful things. I especially enjoy creating art from what others may consider trash. One of my favorite examples is taking the red wax from
Babybel cheese to make tiny animal sculptures.

S&E: Are you hoping to be a professional artist one day?

Kiya: Yes, I definitely am.

S&E: What is your favorite art medium? Drawing…painting…sculpting?

Kiya: I really enjoy all of them, but if I had to choose one it would be sculpting. I get to create a piece and then paint it, so I really like that the best so far.

Kiya also makes her own jewelry. / Photo by Bill Hobbs

Kiya also makes her own jewelry. / Photo by Bill Hobbs

Kiya has attended the Watkins College Young Artists Program for the past two summers, where emphasis is placed on exploration of motor skills, eye and hand coordination and the process of thinking and communicating through art. This summer, Kiya also attended and excelled at another local art camp sponsored by Vanderbilt University. LaQuita says that Kiya has gained a great deal from the summer programs, and she continues to see more and more creative ideas flow from her daughter.

And just in case you think one can’t be both artistic and athletic, Kiya also attends basketball camp, and she is pretty good at shooting hoops. So there’s no telling where this young artistic, athletic preteen will end up a few years from now!

Congratulations to all of our fine, young, talented HEROES of the Schoolyard. We here at Sports & Entertainment Nashvillelook forward to seeing more of you and celebrating your ongoing progress!