|My favorite pony, Nobie, out to pasture|
This year, the public schools in Ottawa Country switched staffing agencies that provide them their substitute teachers. For me, this means that instead of reactivating my membership quickly and easily online and jumping right back into subbing, I have to apply and be accepted into an entirely new and different agency. The process is time-consuming and filled with paperwork, fingerprinting and background checks. While I've been waiting to be officially approved and hired, I've been working at the Hope College bookstore, spending a lot of time at the college library and most recently, volunteering with Renew Therapeutic Riding.
I grew up with horses and miss being in the barn so when I spotted a flier at Hope stating the need for volunteers at Renew, I emailed them right away and attended the next orientation. Renew is a non-profit organization almost completely run by volunteers. The program promotes therapeutic riding for youth and adults with special needs. The idea behind therapeutic riding is teaching and practicing independence through horsemanship. Being mounted on a horse allows people with special needs the opportunity to use new muscles, practice balancing, conquer fears and control a very large animal by themselves. Before I'd ever volunteered with Renew, I had always admired the potentially transformative power of being around horses and animals in general. Spending summers on the farm from age 8-14 taught me cooperation, responsibility, leadership, creativity and problem-solving. But most importantly, it was a lot of fun!
So far I have really enjoyed working with Renew; the community of volunteers is incredible, the facility is beautiful, the ponies are adorable and the students are at times hard to calm down because of their enthusiasm. I knew I would enjoy being around horses again - grooming them, petting them, feeling the weight of a saddle in my hands while wearing boots and jeans - but I wasn't fully prepared for how moving the interactions are with the students. My job as a volunteer varies from leading the horses while students ride or walking alongside students making sure they stay safely mounted. Most of the time the students are so excited they can barely contain themselves and they like to talk to the volunteers and horse handlers about it. This week I worked with four students and four different ponies (Nobie, Tucker, Bear and Lizzy). Some of the student comments include: "I'm having a blast!", "I feel like a very strong man" and "I'm the best cowboy in the world!".
Truthfully, I suspect that the program might be just as therapeutic for the volunteers as for the participants. Come and join us!