National Volunteer Week: April 15-21, 2018
By Daphne Davey
The 2018 theme for National Volunteer Week (promoted in April each year across Canada) was “Celebrate the Value of Volunteering: Building confidence, competence, connections and community.” How apt this is for therapeutic riding?!
Ask anyone volunteering at any of CanTRA’s accredited therapeutic riding centres – and there are over 80 operating across the country – what volunteering means to them, and you will find those same values listed.
A rider and his volunteer team. Photo: Colleen Hunt
Building confidence: Many of our volunteers are young folk with Pony Club or other useful hands-on horse experience, but often lacking self-confidence. They soon learn! Handling horses is one thing, but getting to know and work with riders covering a wide spectrum of disabilities, as well as many other aspects of the job, is another. It is so satisfying to see our new volunteers blossom!
Competence: While formal training gives new volunteers a strong foundation, ongoing training during the riding sessions will help them fine-tune their skills as they become familiar with riders, horses, special equipment, instruction techniques, and therapeutic interventions. Competence, of course, builds self-confidence.
Connections: Many volunteers develop deep and meaningful personal connections. They are often assigned to assist the same rider at each lesson, which inevitably leads to an opening of their understanding of both the person, their disability, and (most important) their ability. Volunteers also develop strong connections with their fellow volunteers, for all share in the responsibility of providing the best possible experience for the riders. Teamwork is of the utmost importance for the safety, comfort, and enjoyment of everyone involved.
Community: It is not at all unusual for volunteers to serve at their local therapeutic riding centre for several years, even decades. Given the commitment of time and energy required, this is amazing! What draws them back season after season? Perhaps the answer lies, at least partly, in the knowledge that they have come to belong to a very special community whose sole focus is to expand the horizons of children and adults who need a “leg up” into the saddle.
Yes, it’s in the job description! Photo: Daphne Davey
And in doing so, they find their own horizons expanding. They, as well as the riders they serve, move into a better place.
Main photo: Sharing a volunteer in-joke. Photo: Daphne Davey