Therapeutic riding centers are non-profits, run predominantly by volunteers. Instructors and horses could not do this work alone – we need volunteers! There are a number of volunteer positions that are pretty standard across centers and, in case you think it’s all about being with horses, I wanted to outline some other common volunteer opportunities.
Sidewalker: This is usually the first volunteer position at centers for volunteers involved in lessons. Sidewalkers walk alongside the rider in lessons. They help the rider with balance, stretching, verbal prompting, and task completion. I wrote about the different sidewalker holds here.
Horse Leader: Horse leaders lead the horse during lessons. They are responsible for the care of the horse before, during, and after lessons. Leaders help steer the horse, keep the horse calm, and ensure the safety of the horse and client.
Mounting: Some centers train volunteers to assist with mounting and dismounting. Unless volunteers are specially trained, mounting needs to be done by an instructor. Volunteers trained to mount help the clients get on and off the horse safely. There are several ways to mount a client and mounting training explains how to safely get a client on and off the horse no matter their ability.
Ground Lessons: Some centers offer ground lessons. This can be horsemanship lessons, equine-facilitated psychotherapy (EFP), equine-assisted learning (EAL), or any other work done with and around the horse from the ground. Centers that offer EFP and/or EAL have special training for volunteers interested in participating in those programs. The objectives of ground programs are different than those of mounted programs so volunteers need to trained on how to help clients meet those objectives.
Horse Care: Horses are the heart and soul of therapeutic riding centers and require a lot of care. Many centers do not have the staff or budget size to care for their herd without help from volunteers. Horse care may include feeding, turning out, mucking stalls, hand-walking, exercise riding, or grooming. Maybe it means helping with the veterinarian or farrier, providing extra care for an injury, or picking up extra bags of feed for the center.
Barn/Property Help: People who are handy, like to work outside, enjoy manual work, or just want to help and can’t make it to lessons can often help with facility management. Volunteers can plant flowers, clean pastures, fix fences, paint, repair doors and hinges, and complete any other odd jobs.
Office Work: There’s truly something for everyone who wants to help in the therapeutic riding field. Don’t like horses? Not in to manual labor? Help with office work! Most centers need help with fundraising, answering phones, filing paperwork, volunteering at events, being on committees, and more. Some of this work may even be done from home if your schedule doesn’t allow for regular hours.
Therapeutic riding is rewarding for everyone involved; I highly suggest checking out your local center and seeing what their volunteer needs are if you are interested!
Did I forget any volunteer category? Let me know below!