LEESVILLE, La. (KALB) -- Fifteen-year-old Analiese Gaffey has been riding horses since she was 7-years-old, but her passion comes at a cost.
Analiese Gaffey, a longtime Lions camper with Spina Bifida wins People's Choice and 3rd Runner Up at 2017 Leesville Lion's Club Rodeo Queen Contest. (KALB)
"I found out she had spina bifida when I was three months pregnant. They tell you all your worst case scenarios: she won't walk, she won't run," said Analiese's mother, Laura Gaffey.
Laura said the teen has had at least six surgeries.
"She had her first surgery at one and a half years old and it was about a four-hour surgery. Her spinal cord is actually split in two," she explained.
Analiese also has an abnormal growth of fat attached to her spinal cord and membranes, which makes riding horses all the more painful and dangerous.
"When I first started riding, it was the only thing that kept me walking," said the teen. "You can move, you can go on trails and feel free. It's like they're my legs. But I have to take breaks, probably about after 20 minutes because my hip slides out of the socket."
Analiese knew that would be her biggest obstacle when running for the 2017 Leesville, Louisiana Lions Club Rodeo Queen. It's a competition that tests the speaking and horsemanship skills of high school students. The queen contestants and proceeds from the rodeo help raise money for the a camp for children with disabilities. Being a longtime camper herself, Analiese was determined to compete.
"The experiences I've gained in my time at camp cannot be measured in any value because they will always hold such a cherished place in my heart," Analiese told a panel of judges in the speech portion of the competition.
After more than a month of preparation, Analiese entered the arena wearing rhinestones, fringe and her biggest smile. She won the people's choice award and third runner up
"I don't even know. There's just so many emotions going through my head," she said after the competition.
It was an exciting experience for the teen and one that inspired others, including her mom.
"I don't know where I would be without her. It overjoys me to see her ride," said Laura.
The Lions Camp makes children like Analiese feel normal and that's a cause she'll always advocate for with or without a crown
"It's just such a special place because I've gained new friends throughout it, so many people that I'll always be with," said Analiese.
Analiese is the first Lions camper with spina bifida to run for Leesville Rodeo Queen since 2003. She'd also like to help start a local group for horse enthusiasts with disabilities.