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Volunteer Work: Therapeutic Riding

 

For several years, our children have volunteered with a therapeutic riding program.  Volunteering is, of course, important for a young person for several reasons

 

-it provides a meaningful, out of the home, opportunity to serve

-it often allows constructive interaction with mentors in various fields  

-it often involves learning new skills

-it introduces the teen to various career possibilities

-it can be a stepping stone to a job

-it reinforces a sense of responsibility, good work habits, and confidence

-it often provides an opportunity for teens to glorify their Father in heaven, even without saying anything

-it shows the community that home schooled teens are contributing members

-it’s an excellent addition to a resume, university application, or scholarship application

-it gives their mom ideas of things she might want to do in the hazy, distant future when home schooling is finished…and an excited mom is always good for any child (OK, so I had to slip that one in there, but it’s important, too!)

 

Involvement with therapeutic riding has been a great volunteer opportunity for our children, meeting many of these goals.  They love working with the horses and enjoy many of the handicapped riders as well.

 

Therapeutic riding, also called hippotherapy, is using horses to provide therapy for injured or disabled people.  Benefits range from developing mobility, balance, and strength, to increasing concentration, independence, and self-confidence.  For a person in a wheelchair, used to looking up to others, it is such a life-changing situation to be high up on a horse, looking down at others!  The picture on the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association home page  sums it up:  a wheelchair is left behind empty while a horse and rider walk confidently away.

 

Our children help groom and saddle the horses before the riders arrive.  This has been an enjoyable learning experience for them, since we do not have horses.  Then they either lead the horse during therapy or work as “side-walkers,” holding the riders safely on the saddle.  (Yes, some riders have three volunteers helping them and their horse, but more able riders may have only one, or even no side-walker.  In our experience, there is always someone leading the horse.) The instructor has specific routines worked out, depending on the therapy required by different  individuals.    Most sessions end with a short trail walk, and then the riders are assisted in dismounting.   Some are immediately helped back to their vehicles by their caregivers, exhausted and exhilarated, and some are able to interact with the horses, feeding them apples or carrots or perhaps even grooming them.  I found these pictures  and other information for you on the internet.  (No, neither of these are the group we volunteer with!)

 

A film of therapeutic riding used for Vietnam amputees is also available online and it brought tears to my eyes. Notice that these men did not use leaders or side-walkers; one scene shows how straps were used to help them stay on their saddles.  I assume that part of the goals of this program was to give these formerly strong, able men confidence in their abilities even with severe handicaps, and being independent on a spirited horse meets that goal.

 

Therapeutic riding programs rely heavily on volunteers, although they are run by trained instructors operating in conjunction with medical personnel. When our children once again signed up as volunteers for the summer, the instructors were thrilled.  They know we home school, and they immediately begged us to come the last two weeks of the spring session as well.  Two of the regular volunteers could no longer help out, and without volunteers to lead the horses and to help stabilize the riders, some riders would have to miss out on this highlight in their week.

 

The work, especially as side-walker, is physically tiring, but it is also hugely rewarding.  If you or your children are interested, opportunities to volunteer abound in both Canada and the United States More information is available in the online version of the magazine Strides, available at the US website link.   

 

For anyone who is interested, there are also therapeutic skiing programs with which we have no experience.  Here is an online film of Vietnam war amputees and therapeutic skiing  and here are some pictures of others in an adaptive skiing program. 

6 Comments

  1. solidrock says:

    Could not agree more! Our kids start volunteering as soon as they can verbalize and walk. We do homeless outreach, outreach to poor kids, ( dinner, bible study, praise and worship, games), food pantry, house cleaning, etc.

    We have a place for hippothearpy. It is too far to go each day. Excellect program. As a child I was actually blessed to receive hippothearpy.

  2. LarabaK says:

    Thank you so much for this blog. I desire for our children to be involved in community outreach but we haven't gone there yet. This is a fabulous idea, combining love for others, love for horses, and good exercise. The first is of course the most important. What a way to serve!

    Laraba

  3. proverbsmama says:

    Very interesting thread!

    I am looking forward to getting dd to volunteer. However, with me now working f/t, I'm not sure if I'll be able to get her where she needs to go.

  4. 2boysmom says:

    This is an amazing ministry. Your kids will be different people because of this experience.

    Way to go!

  5. Janet says:

    Hi! I came here from Small World.
    I just want to share with you that my daughter did this for a couple of years, at ages 15 and 16. She’s now 17. She loves horses. Our other daughter has special needs. She did everything you describe here. She also got to ride a couple of the horses as a way to prepare the horses for riding with the children. One of the horses was rather new and a bit feisty. She was so good with the horses that they asked her to kind of tame this horse, which she did. She loved working there…with the people, the children and the horses.
    I started looking around your blog to try to find out what state you’re in…to see if it was the same place. We’re in Florida, but I’m thinking you’re in Canada because you mention it.
    As I was searching around your blog, I came across a page of links for high school. May I suggest a link that I’ve found very helpful? It’s Letshomeschoolhighschool.com They have a lot of great information and free tools.
    Well, thank you for sharing. This is a great post!!!
    Janet

    1. Annie Kate says:

      I’m glad your daughter had such a good time volunteering. It truly is an amazing volunteer opportunity in so many ways.

      Yes, I am in Canada. I think many communities throughout North America have a therapeutic riding program.

      I just reviewed some great Christian horse books for middle school children who love horses and I mention therapeutic riding there as well: http://anniekateshomeschoolreviews.com/2013/03/review-sonrise-stable-series-by-vicki-watson/

      Thank you for the link. A lot of my bloggy friends and I are on the blog roll there, but I haven’t really used their site very much. I must check out the free tools you mentioned.

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