I recently saw the word volunesia. Don't think it's turned up in Webster's yet. It's what can happen to you when you're doing something for someone else and realize that you're getting so much out of it, you forgot you were doing it for someone else. I've caught the most wonderful case of volunesia while volunteering at Free Rein. To watch our riders of all ages, who may or may not be able to guide their own voices, eyes, or bodies realize they can guide a thousand pound horse, can you imagine?! The confidence, the joy, the strength, the bliss they experience is truly infectious. They're all so brave. Take away the wheel chair and put four gentle legs beneath them. Let them share your eyes while you lead, and pet the soft coats as you move down the trail. Any sound they can utter becomes a command to 'walk on'. Spending time with these riders, our critters, amazing staff, other volunteers, there's just no place I'd rather be on a Thursday morning.
I signed up to be a volunteer at Free Rein by accident. Quite literally; I misunderstood the directions given to me by a classmate and came to the wrong therapeutic riding facility. As it turned out, that was one of my best mistakes ever. I walked into the office not knowing what I was doing, and the volunteer coordinator took it in stride and had me set up in no time. The first impressions I had of Free Rein were great; the people were knowledgeable and amicable, the equines were well mannered and quite forgiving, and the people riding seemed to be having a good time. However, for the first few weeks of my time at Free Rein, I didn't really realize what I had become a part of. I was just there because I needed 200 hours of experience with individuals with disabilities, and this was doing the job, but the more time I spent out at Free Rein, the more I realized the importance the intervention that was being provided there. As I spent more and more time volunteering at Free Rein in various positions, I begun to gain more insight into what the effects of the program really were. Perhaps the most prominent single event that brought me to this realization was when I spent time working with the military vet program within Free Rein. Watching the lives of these individuals (whose past experiences I cannot even imagine) change as they interacted with the horses that they had chosen to work with was fascinating and heart touching. When these individuals spent time with their assigned equines, it was almost like they were completely different people. Their levels of anxiety and stress were significantly decreased, and for at least the time that they were there, they could forget about everything else. A year later I was still volunteering at Free Rein. I had gotten my 200 hours of experience and had even been accepted into the OT program that required that experience, but I was reluctant to leave the program. The human/equine interaction is fascinating, and its effects are widespread, and being able to witness that interaction, and contribute to its facilitation is quite rewarding. At times, when I look back and evaluate my time at Free Rein, I almost feel like I received more benefit from the experience than I provided as a volunteer. What had begun as an accident and a fulfillment of an obligation turned out to be one of the greatest volunteer experiences I have ever had, and probably will ever have. Free Rein is truly an amazing non-profit, and I will continue to volunteer there for as long as I am able to.
After going through some intense trauma at a young age, my happy bubbly little girl, was no longer the same person. She was scared, broken, and refused to speak so much so that she lost the physical ability to form words. After a long, hard look at our budget, I connected with Free Rein in hopes that the money would work itself out, and placed her on the wait list. An opportunity presented itself to receive a grant for the costs, and Sandy helped me navigate the paperwork to obtain both the grant, and a scholarship from Free Rein. My little girl had not only two full sessions paid for, but a brand new purple helmet. A purple helmet which she anxiously clung to on the drive to the stables. Once she saw the horse she would soon be riding, her anxiety melted away, and her bright smile made a big come back. After every class her voice gets stronger, and her confidence grows. My beautiful little girl has found her joy once again.
My wife and I volunteered for over 4 yrs until health problems caused us to fade away. We worked with different riders but one in particular, who we helped every week, caused us to see the changes the program created. Like any program you get out of it what you put into it. I feel in our brief time we helped.