Volunteering for a good cause makes you feel better while you’re doing good. For equestrians who want to give back to their sport, there are many opportunities and causes that can benefit from your time, your skill and your donations.
While most charities appreciate cash gifts of any size, not all of us have extra cash lying around to spare. But almost every good cause needs feet on the ground and an extra set of hands. It’s volunteers that keep these groups running.
Frequently I see pleas for help on bulletin boards asking people to donate money to save a particular horse from going to auction. While the causes are generally good, I personally think it’s better to get involved with the charities and rescues that are local. It’s very rewarding to experience first hand the results of your efforts or donations and I guarantee that there’s a rescue near you that could use your help.
About 10 years ago I had a strong urge to get back involved in a “hands on” capacity in a charitable organization and I knew I wanted it to be horse related. I began to volunteer for a therapeutic riding program called Lovelane which focuses on helping children with special needs meet their therapeutic goals. Programs like these frequently need volunteers who are experienced with handling horses. While the instructors are all certified, a volunteer who is comfortable leading a therapy horse or working as a side walker (beside the horse, often with a hand on the leg or back of the child), is a real asset. I was worried before I started helping with the program. Many of the children they help have serious — and sometimes terminal — conditions. I didn’t know how I would feel about it. I loved it. I loved the children and the joy and empowerment they got from riding was an amazingly uplifting experience. I learned so much from them about the therapeutic value of riding and I learned to be grateful for what I have. The instructors were amazing. I was a leader or side walker for about three years and would have continued if my family and business obligations were not so overwhelming.
Here are some directories to help you find a therapeutic riding program in your area:
- Midwest Horse Stables Directory Handicapped and Therapeutic Riding Resources
- Southern California Equestrian Directory
- DMOZ Handicapped and Therapeutic Riding Directory
- O Horse Therapeutic Riding Centers (worldwide)
- Just Horses: Therapeutic Riding Programs
More recently, I have done some volunteer work for CANTER New England, which helps thoroughbreds that are ending their racing career find new jobs and new homes. CANTER is an all-volunteer organization; none of the staff are paid which means all the money raised goes to help the horses. My relationship with CANTER NE started when I had an empty stall in my barn. I had just sold a horse and wasn’t sure if I wanted another, but didn’t want to give up the stall. I decided that I would be a foster home for a CANTER owned horse. At the time, a friend of mine was looking for a new horse and we thought that this horse might work for her. Six months later, I adopted him myself!
Since I am in public relations, I also thought I might be able to help CANTER raise awareness for their efforts. I worked with local television stations to cover the end of the season at Suffolk Downs, when many horses need homes, and arranged for a CANTER owned horse to be profiled on the NPR radio program, Only a Game. I send out press releases and announcements because I have access to online distribution services. I wish I had the time to go to the track and help the volunteers who give up so many of their days, but I do what I can.
Here is a partial list of Thoroughbred rescue organizations. Certainly, there are many more — and many more breeds, and just plain horses, that need rescue, too.
- CANTER (CANTER is now located in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New England, California, Mid-Atlantic, N. Illinois).
- After the Finish Line
- Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation
- New York Horse Rescue
- New Vocations
- The Exceller Fund
Usually I try to help out at least one of our local horse shows or events. It may be as simple as helping to set jumps, but I know that there are so many jobs at a show that they can always use an extra set of hands.
More recently, I had a friend who needed to find a home for her pony. It’s tough to give away a horse or pony in today’s economy. Especially a pony that’s 20 years old and just recovering from a founder episode. All the local rescues were full to the brim and in need of help, supplies and money. During this process, I “re-homed” many items that have been sitting around in my tack room (some for years). It’s great to know that bits, bridles, halters and blankets that don’t fit any horses that I still own will get used. Eventually, the pony found a great home at a riding school as a school pony.
I guess the point is that there are a lot of organizations — and people — that need help. Many of them are in your backyard. If you have the time and can lend your hands, your skills or the unused content in your tack box, your efforts will surely be appreciated. And it will make you feel good, too.