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Where Would We Be Without Them?

Celebrating Volunteer Appreciation Month

Last week my riding lesson went especially well, and I was cognitive of how valuable my team of volunteers were to me and my progression with horseback riding. They’re with me every step of the way (literally). Without them I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Someone that experiences joy and recognizes the beauty in my life simply because I have something to look forward to every week. Something that wouldn’t be available to me without their dedication and service.

Walking Beside Me

When you enter an Equine Therapeutic Riding Facility you will often find a Volunteer Coordinator juggling phone calls, questions, and scheduling. Most riders in adaptive riding classes (which often serve four riders at a time) require two volunteer side-walkers and a leader for assistance, making the Volunteer Coordinator’s job invaluable and the need for volunteers immeasurable.

As a long-time recipient of therapeutic riding services, I have benefited from the volunteers’ kind and generous spirits and know they put the rider’s needs first. I witness this attitude weekly, but one day particularly stands out to me. Every time I ride, I require the assistance of three volunteers—my team. Over the past twenty years of riding, I've worked with several teams of volunteers and become fond of every one of them for the individual traits they’ve contributed to the experience and to my personal growth. Some have moved on to raise families or pursue other worthwhile interests, but we remain friends and they continue to be a valuable part of my life.

On that day, I was working with a team that had been together for several years and we’d become very close. Those three women had committed themselves to assisting other less fortunate individuals by volunteering their time and talents to the riding facility for several hours every week. They were (and are) the kindest people you could ever meet, and I have come to cherish my friendship with each of them. And I pretty much trusted them with my life every time they worked with me and my unstable body while I sat on a calm, but large and unpredictable animal.

My primary goal back then was to ride independently—without side-walkers or a leader. I had ridden without a leader before, but due to several horse changes over the years it had been a long time since I’d ridden without side-walkers. My riding was going well that day, so the instructor unhooked the lead rope and asked the volunteer leading the horse to step away. Now I was reining and directing the horse with only my side-walkers walking next to me. Each week this had become our routine as I worked on other strengthening exercises. But that day I felt particularly confident and— possibly motivated by a desire to show off for a media crew filming our activities—I asked the side-walkers to also step back.

To everyone’s surprise, I spent the rest of the lesson riding independently. My joy knew no bounds. I was actually riding on my own! This was a goal I had worked toward for years, with these volunteers by my side every step of the way. Without their encouragement, support and sometimes badgering, I never would have experienced the victory and elation I was enjoying at that very moment.

Then I noticed my side-walker discreetly wipe her eyes and the rest of the team’s (including my instructor’s) watery eyes. At that point I needed a tissue. I felt so blessed by my amazing friends. These women had chosen to volunteer in order to help with rider safety but ended up caring enough to feel my letdowns and triumphs as deeply as I did.

Where would we be without the selfless nature of volunteers and service-oriented individuals in all walks of life? We owe them a debt of gratitude and our deepest respect.

To all of the volunteers in my life that are ushering me along this road of uncertainty called "living with a disability". Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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