Working with equine-facilitated therapy is one of the richest, most rewarding volunteer opportunities you could find. Volunteers are the back bone of our program. Without them we wouldn’t exist. If you want to get involved but are not familiar with various types of disabilities, that’s okay. We will provide you with all the information you need to work with the riders effectively. As far as equestrian skills, we’ve had volunteers come out who have never met a horse in person and others who know a lot about them. If you are in the first group, again, don’t worry. The more exposure to horses you have the more comfortable and confident you will be. We just appreciate a willingness to help others and to learn.
The various jobs that our volunteers do are numerous, but most common are: gathering the horses from the field, grooming, saddling, leading, facilitating exercises, skills lessons and games, unsaddling, putting the horses up and, the most important one, just interacting positively with our athletes. You can find a copy of our volunteer manual which delineates all aspects of volunteering on our web site. The ability range of our participants is very wide. We have riders who are completely independent, some are semi-independent, and some need a great deal of help. Occasionally, if a participant has trouble sitting independently, we need a volunteer who is comfortable mounted behind a rider. It’s called back-riding. None of these jobs are mandatory. It just depends on the comfort level of each helper. And we will provide training for all these tasks.
The range of special needs is also very wide. We have participants whose needs are physical. Our job would be to stretch stiff muscles and tendons, build core strength, increase stamina and muscle tone and facilitate as much independence as is possible. We have seen immobile kids defy medical prognoses, get up from their wheel chairs and walk on their own. Imagine the joyful tears on the face of a parent watching her child meet milestones she was told would never happen.
We also have riders whose needs are not visible. Some of these individuals are on the autism spectrum. Or they have deep emotional scars or mental issues. They need to build trust bonds. And, based on their past experiences, it is easier to trust a horse than a human being. The horse unconditionally respects his human. He won’t judge her or tease her. He’s the same every time. She knows what to expect. He won’t change his mood and get mad at her for no reason. He teaches consistency. He teaches her to trust herself and other people. To quote one of our young clients when asked about trusting a horse, “It’s okay to trust a horse” she explained, “because he doesn’t judge me. He won’t make fun of me when I make a mistake. He teaches me to try again. He listens when I talk to him. He comes to me when he sees me. He’s my friend and he won’t change his mind about it. He lets me love him without demanding it.”
We also have other events like bar-b-ques, bon fires, work days, annual play-day competitions and fund raisers. No matter what the occasion there is ALWAYS fun to be had.
It is a great experience to be a part of the magical bond between the horses and these extraordinary individuals. Helping to enable exceptional folks to accomplish things previously thought to be impossible is touching beyond words. The truth is that it’s questionable as to who derives more therapeutic benefits- the participants or the helpers. The group of families, the volunteers, the riders the whole team is like a big, loving family. I am sure you will feel welcome and blessed to be a part of it.