Tonight was my first night as a sidewalker in an actual class at the therapeutic riding center! I was so nervous all day but it was all for nothing! The class session is six weeks long and takes place in the center’s indoor arena at 6:30 p.m. When I arrive, I’m relieved to discover that the class I’m assisting with is small—only three riders—and they all happen to be adults with physical disabilities. The horses are already groomed, and the tack is neatly lined up outside of each stall. In therapeutic riding, most of the time it takes three volunteers for each rider – a leader and two sidewalkers (one for each side). As my fellow volunteers arrive, I am happy to see some familiar faces from my training class, along with several seasoned pros. After a brief introduction during which our instructor, a bright and cheerful woman named Robin, assigned us to our teams and briefed us on our riders, we moved to tack up the horses.
As soon as the riders arrived it was time to head to the arena, and as I helped my rider mount I suddenly felt very calm—almost as though I had done it all before… I mean, I had, but just never with someone so vulnerable! As Robin took us through the paces of the class, I began to bond with my rider and even found that we had some surprising things in common!
The class itself was geared towards improving balance, strength and range of motion, mainly through various turning exercises, stretching and directional changes. Although someone is leading the horses, their job (as well as our job as sidewalkers) is to allow the riders to do as much as possible on their own. As the class came to a close, I was amazed at the riders’ stamina considering their limitations, and felt like I was finally beginning to understand how powerful therapeutic riding really is.