A Day in the Life of a Therapeutic Riding Volunteer

Volunteering in a therapeutic riding program enables you to make a difference helping animals and people. At the same time, you witness the difference horse interaction makes in lives of kids and adults who struggle with aspects of life.

Tuesdays are my day for volunteering with  SLO Hoofbeats Therapeutic Riding program, which operates Little Riders in Arroyo Grande. Even as the demands of my family – like getting my daughter to soccer practice – push into my Tuesday afternoons, I fiercely protect my time at Little Riders.

Why? Because this work makes a difference in the lives of the horses and riders and it builds my community.

A Day in the Life of a Therapeutic Riding Volunteer

“What time do you have Little Riders today?” ask my teens on Tuesday mornings. They know if they need to work out getting somewhere that my time as a therapeutic riding volunteer will stand in their way. My daughter’s new soccer team practices in San Luis Obispo which has impacted my therapeutic riding volunteer time. In order to make it all work she comes with me to Little Riders, operated by SLO Hoofbeats, and we scoot away soon after the last lesson I help in.

My Duties as a Therapeutic Riding Volunteer

My first job upon arriving, usually, is to get Alura, the horse I will lead that day, out of her stall and work her in the round pen for a bit. Sometimes I help in an earlier lesson as a side walker or horse leader so I adjust my arrival time accordingly.

I have become familiar with Alura, a treasured jewel, and know her likes and dislikes. I know where Alura likes to be curried and to slowly tighten her cinch.

My sweet rider arrives and I help her groom this favored horse. She relishes in being near her mount. Grooming progresses in spurts as my sweet rider simply wants to stand at Alura’s head and listen as she whispers her own loving feelings towards her.

Both of my charges, Alura and my rider, are quite sensitive and my rider is especially attuned to the subtleties of communication from the horse. It’s beautiful to watch and thrilling to be a part of making the communication even sharper.

I help my rider stay on task with the lesson and provide personal support, as we execute the lesson objectives. This is an advanced class where the riders are encouraged to ride independently. My rider can now influence the horse with her seat and turn the horse using her eyes. She has worked up to riding independently with me alongside as her coach.

The lesson ends and I help my rider lead Alura back to the grooming area. We untack “together” – as my rider loves to remind me. Independently, my rider leads Alura back to her stall, with me following. Routine is important to my rider and she carries out each step in the routine with confidence.

Volunteering Expands Your Community

Relationships between the horses and riders is not the only connection happening in my time as a therapeutic riding volunteer. The two instructors. Lisa and Tracy, have become my friends and connections with the other volunteers has expanded my horse community. The camaraderie with the other volunteers, many of whom are seasoned riders, gives us all the sense we are part of something grander than ourselves.

A Day in the Life of a Therapeutic Riding Volunteer | SLO Horse News

Therapeutic riding programs are a labor-intensive undertaking. Most program riders require a horse handler and two side walkers. Instructors are focused on running the 30 minute lessons consecutively so there also needs to be someone getting horses ready and tacked up. Thus the community of volunteers expands one’s own horse community connections and friendships.

A Day in the Life of a Therapeutic Riding Volunteer | SLO Horse News Volunteering with  SLO Hoofbeats has cultivated connections with other horse people and developed friendships with the instructors and other volunteers. These people enrich my life and work. Helping others and animals while working outside with horses and other like-minded people provides sanctuary in my life, this is why I fiercely protect my commitment.


Come Join the SLO Hoofbeats Team

SLO Hoofbeats is always looking for new volunteers. Student schedules and life changes all impact volunteer availability. You can be an integral part of helping people heal and/or develop life skills while expanding your own community. SLO Hoofbeats could especially use experienced horse people as horse leaders. Side-walkers don’t necessarily need to be people with horse experience. Horse leaders are usually called upon to get the horse they will be leading exercised (round pen lunging), groomed and tacked up.

A Day in the Life of a Therapeutic Riding Volunteer | SLO Horse News

You can help out as a:

Horse Leader – usually an experienced horse person who can anticipate horse behavior and read warning signs to stop issues from developing

Side Walker – a person who can focus on keeping the rider safe, and stay up with the horse

Groom/Tack-up person – sometimes on a busy Saturday this person just gets horses out, grooms and tacks up; Other times this job falls to the horse leader.

SLO Hoofbeats, which runs the Little Riders program sponsored by Jack’s Helping Hand, operates in Arroyo Grande at Eric Wagner’s Ranch on Saturday afternoons from 12:00 – 5:00 and Tuesday afternoons from 2:30 – 5:00.  Volunteers who can help out on Saturdays are most-needed right now. For more information on becoming a volunteer see the SLO Hoofbeats website.

A Day in the Life of a Therapeutic Riding Volunteer | SLO Horse News All photos courtesy of Jack’s Helping Hand

Former Pony Clubber, Eventer and Dressage rider who balanced training and showing with getting a college degree (from Cal Poly SLO), becoming a wife and raising a family.

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