We are one year shy of our 20th anniversary at Equine Assisted Therapy, and it amazes me how far we’ve come. We started with little more than a barn full of junk and a house to raise our newborn in. Over time this farm has grown to become a product of the community. I always envisioned that this program would grow large enough to be self-sustaining, but I never imagined the family of volunteers, students and staff that have helped the farm survive.
The program started with eight students, a handful of volunteers, two horses, and a pony, including my childhood horse, Shane. Friends let us borrow a pony named Oreo, and yes, he did look like an Oreo cookie. Our third horse, Tippy, was donated to us. I distinctly remember our very first lesson: everything was set up and ready to go, so of course it rained but we rode anyways because the smiles were worth it.
For years we boarded our horses at another facility during the winter; it wasn’t until 2007 that we built our indoor arena for winter riding.
Without a doubt, we’re where we are today because of our determination and skills, not to mention the generosity of others. We couldn’t do what we do without the number of volunteers who lend a hand not only with the riding lessons but also with the farm maintenance and the fundraising. Our beautiful picnic shelter with a shingled roof and concentrate floor was built by an Eagle Scout; and our outdoor privy was built by a group of folks with a small grant from the Chase Foundation, and these are just two of the many examples of how the community has pitched in to help Equine Assisted Therapy succeed.
My husband and I bought this 40 acre farm with the idea of providing programs that would last well beyond 20 years. As long as there are kids and adults who need this service and are benefitting from it, we want to be able to offer it to the Central Ohio community. My goal from the very beginning was to use my God given talents and my love of horses to do something that served kids and somehow made their lives better. I also wanted to make a living doing something that I could be proud to say I was part of. Early on I taught lessons and cleaned the stables, with my son in a backpack. A few years later I had two little helpers whose lives have been shaped and changed by this program and it’s amazing people.
This program has taught me many things; including patience and perseverance. I have also learned to rely on other people, something that wasn’t easy for me. Whevever I get discouraged it seems like somebody just happens comes along to offer their skills or give me encouragement. Some volunteers stay a long time and others only a few months, but each of those individuals have been a blessing because of the impact they’ve made here. We have volunteers from all walks of life and all age group and although they each have their own reasons for volunteering, most will tell you that they receive way more than they give.
Prior to the recession, we had more paid staff members who handled administrative details, grant writing, and facility management. I will admit that it is a lot of work to keep things going, and my husband and I spend many days working from sun up to sun down and beyond but it is well worth it to see the smiles, hear about the improvements our clients are making outside the arena, and know that we are making a difference in their lives.
The biggest resource we have is our volunteers. Without them we could not keep our doors open and serve the clients who come each week. From group service projects like the students from Kenyon College who help us clear trails, so the kids can ride through the woods without getting stuck with briars to the lesson volunteers who gladly tromp through the mud to help kids ride, to our bingo volunteers who help raise much needed operating funds; we couldn’t do what we do without each and every one of thenm! Time is very precious, so we really appreciate the fact that people come here to volunteer. We help each other think about the big picture – the impact horses and riding has on these kids’ lives.