Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Therapeutic Riding

On Sunday I participated in volunteer training for an assisted riding program near my home. It is something that I have been thinking about for a long time, and a way to share my love of horses and riding. This particular training is for a supporting role, not for instructors. OUr job will be to get the horses ready for the lessons, clean tack or whatever else may need to be taken care of around the barn. In addition we may lead the horse during the lesson (depending on the ability of the rider)or be a side walker. Some of the students will be unsteady in the saddle, so someone must walk on either side holding the saddle and arm draped across the rider's thigh for support. The day was quite cold and windy, but six of the seven volunteers that were expected did indeed arrive for training. I was expecting the group to have a fair amount of riding and horse experience like myself. Instead the group consisted of 3 adults and three young adults. Two of the three young women had some riding experience but not recent. The third young woman had no horse experience at all. She had been looking for a place to volunteer so that she could learn about horses and work in exchange for the privilege of riding. The other two girls also wanted to earn riding time. The two other adult volunteers had limited horse experience but were very interested in just spending time with horses and possibly being able to ride as well. Often, I believe, that those of us who have our own horses and ride regularly, spending several hours a day with our equine companions, take for granted how fortunate we are. With the volunteer program at Shady Hollow, ten hours of volunteer work earns a riding lesson. Would it be wrong of me to offer my volunteer hours to the girl who has no experience and is desperate to ride? I was that girl once. I would have done anything to earn more riding time, and I did. When someone wants it that badly, it is nice to be able to give them a little bit more. The owner of one of the early barns where I rode, saw that in me. He offered me a horse to ride that was owned by someone who did not have the time to maintain the horse's fitness and training. It was the best spring and summer of my life, and preceded my first experience as a working student. The value of that experience was phenomenal. I am going to ask the coordinator at Shady Hollow if I can offer my hours to that girl. We were taught how to groom the horses and tack them up for lessons. Of course, I can do all of that in my sleep, but it is always interesting to watch what others are doing and to join in the comraderie of learning. I had never put a Western saddle on a horse before, so that was certainly a new experience for me anyway! It wasn't too cold in the barn, but once we headed into the arena it was a bit chilly to say the least! The wind was whipping outside, and the arena is only partially enclosed. But all of that is forgotten as we learned our roles as horse leaders and side walkers. I think at some point I would like to train to be a therapeutic riding instructor, but this is a great way to start. The program offers lessons April through October, and accommodates all levels of physical and mental disabilities. The value of therapeutic riding has been demonstrated time and again. For those who are unable to walk, they are suddenly more mobile than they have ever been and develop a bond with the horses. I know that I certainly feel better every time I put my foot in the stirrup! While Suki will never be suitable for that type of program, her gift is to offer therapy simply by being visited, fussed over and groomed by those who may need the emotional therapy. She has already provided inspiration to her fellow burn survivors, and to individuals suffering from illness. Suki inspires me with her courage and spirit, motivating me to want to improve the world around me. I look forward to my first chance to volunteer!

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