Today was my formal “Volunteer Training Day” at the therapeutic riding center, and it was quite fun! I was in a group of 13 new volunteers who ranged from very experienced with horses to completely new. While I found some of the information redundant (I already know how to groom a horse and tack it up, for example), I was amazed at the determination and bravery of the volunteers who were new to the whole experience; three hours is really not much time to absorb this information if you’ve never done it before!
We were in training today to learn to be sidewalkers at the center – which, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is simply a term to describe the people who walk on either side of the horse during therapeutic riding lessons. Our job is multifaceted – here’s a summary:
- To make sure that the rider doesn’t fall off
- To communicate any important information to the instructor
- To repeat commands as needed if the rider doesn’t hear them
- To assist with mounting and dismounting
- To provide support to the rider as needed
- To prepare the horse for class (grooming and saddling up)
- To lead the horse to and from class
- To ensure general safety
- To unsaddle the horse and prepare it to return to its stall or pasture
During our training today we learned some of the challenges that can arise in dealing with disabled individuals, and I am looking forward to having this exposure, as I have extensive horse experience but very little experience with the mentally and physically disabled. We learned today that we should not wear shiny materials like jewelry or mirrored sunglasses, as it can excite the riders and distract them from learning. We also learned how important it is to stay “in the moment” throughout the entire lesson, as anything can happen in the blink of an eye when you are dealing with animals!
One of the funniest moments of the day came when we separated into small groups to learn how to groom and tack up a horse. Now, I was more than willing to learn their way of doing things, but I’m almost 31 years old and have been working with horses since I was six, so much of it was somewhat remedial. So, as we stood and watched the instructor, I found myself continually zoning out despite my best efforts to pay attention.
Suddenly, I realized the instructor was calling on me to go first and demonstrate everything she had just gone over! As I moved up to take the curry comb from her hand, I said a silent prayer that the way I had learned to groom and tack up a horse would not be too different from what she had just explained! As I moved over the horse, I noticed the instructor nodding approvingly, so I guess I lucked out! It reaminded me to fight harder to stay focused – you never know when you’re going to be called on to do something!
Overall, I am very excited (and a little nervous) about my first day helping in class. I have almost two weeks before my first formal session with a rider, and I plan to come out at least one more time before then to help on the farm and increase my knowledge of these horses and the environment.