When I was very young, when the grown-ups would ask: “What do you want to do when you grow up?” my first answer was that I wanted to be a vet. I knew even then that I wanted to do something that made a difference – and of course I loved horses. One of my earliest memories is of tagging along with my mom when she took riding lessons, pestering her with, “I wanna ride! I wanna ride!”
My first horse, Shane, came to me when I was nine, and together, we got involved with 4H and Pony Club, with lessons and showing. While my vet ambitions eventually evolved into a desire to be a classroom teacher, it wasn’t until after I had completed a degree in Education that I had my first exposure to the world of equine therapy. That was when I knew I had found my place.
We started Equine Assisted Therapy with a little house and a barn, one hundred twenty years old. We started from scratch – truly. We had no fencing, no stalls, and we started with a pony and two horses (one of who was Shane.) We had a two–thousand-dollar startup loan – and a big dream.
When I look back, I sometimes can’t believe we’ve made it happen! I mean, when you’re talking about gathering equipment and putting a farm together – rehabbing stalls, feeding horses and things like that – it’s amazing that we were able to do it. At our very first fund-raiser, we sold candy bars; I think we made a couple hundred dollars. We were ecstatic! From there, the program just slowly evolved.
Volunteers have been the backbone of things around here. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without volunteer help. Our volunteers range in age from teenagers to adults of all ages. Some get involved because it’s part of community service – college and high school students logging those hours. Some come because they just enjoy the kids, and this is their way to give back; this is their stress reliever. Getting out of the city and out to the farm is important to others; we have volunteers who drive over two hours to be here. Working with the volunteers has been one of the most rewarding aspects of being a part of this place.
When we have volunteer training, I sometimes ask the volunteers – the returning ones – what makes them come back. Why do they volunteer? The answer: “I get more out of this than I give.” This humbles me. One volunteer told me, “When I come here, I feel like I belong here, that I’m appreciated and I’m needed. It feels like home.” It’s truly incredible to be a part of something like that.
One of the things that makes our organization unique is its small size. We love getting to know fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers. Between our students and their families, our staff and volunteers, it’s truly a big family here – which makes our work even more rewarding.
One of my very first students just graduated from college, and I remember her starting here as this teeny-tiny little girl – very quiet, very shy, very insecure. She’s blossomed into this beautiful, confident young woman. It makes me feel so good to have been a part of her life and to know that she gained a lot of confidence when she was here, as well as strength and other physical things that have helped her to manage her cerebral palsy. I feel extraordinarily privileged to be a part of what goes on here.
I’m so pleased to have an opportunity to share some of the stories of life here, and to introduce some of the wonderful people who make Equine Assisted Therapy what it is. We’ll be doing more of this as our blog progresses, and we hope you’ll come back often and get to know us – the humans and the horses – as well as a particular feline who rules the barn.
We’re looking forward to sharing this wonderful place with you.