I must admit that I was very excited, and nervous, about this week’s volunteer activity. This experience truly gave me the opportunity to get outside of my comfort zone. I wrote in a recent blog that we must all “get comfortable being uncomfortable” to truly make a difference. I will say that on this particular experience, I did just that. Why so uncomfortable you may ask? I can answer that question with one word. Horses. This week I had the pleasure of working next to an animal that is larger and more powerful than me. That, quite frankly, is a situation I am not used to. As I write this blog, I am so thankful that I didn’t let those fears and concerns deter me from volunteering. If I wouldn’t have made the commitment, I would have missed out on an unbelievable experience.
The James S. McFadden Resource Center is a newly formed 501(c)(3) organization that has partnered with Summit Equestrian Center to provide a unique and special service to students in our community. Summit is a North American Riding for the Handicapped Association member center who provides therapeutic riding lessons for children and adults challenged with disabilities. Each lesson is taught by a certified instructor. The lessons focus on basic intellectual skills like number and letter recognition, colors, and social interaction. They also enhance self-confidence and physical skills through the physical and emotional relationships between horse and rider. The James S. McFadden Center focuses on providing tutoring and academic remediation for the students. The teachers work to reinforce the skills taught on horseback in addition to improving reading, writing, and math aptitude. The combination of both academic and riding provides a great environment for development.
The impact of this program on the students was very clear to me. I met three students who face different challenges in their lives and each made an impact on me personally. Aiden is a young boy who battles mental disabilities. He was riding with his instructor Marie when I arrived. I spent my time with him helping as a walking assistant. I walked next to him as he rode the beautiful horse Lola. I was there to support his legs and feet to help ensure that there was proper balance. As we circled the arena, Marie asked Aiden to identify the letters that were posted along the wall. He would smile and say the letter. For Aiden, this is a huge accomplishment. He began the program unable to speak and he didn’t possess the strength to hold his head up. Today, he is doing sit ups on the back of the horse to build core strength and he can identify numbers and letters posted around the arena. Marie shared with me that he recently said his first full sentence.
Grace is a young lady who lacks the use of her legs and is confined to a wheelchair. I again was a walking assistant as she rode bareback on Penny. As we walked, I asked her about riding a horse and how it made her feel. Though she had a hard time describing the feeling, it was obvious by her facial expression how she felt. Riding gave her great joy and the smile on her face was priceless. She has been riding for 8 months and I was quick to tell her that she looked like a professional. Grace controlled the horse as we walked and trotted in the arena. She was able to play games with another rider that exposed her to excitement of competition. We ended the session with a trail ride through the stable grounds. It was a beautiful evening and a beautiful smile.
Lastly, I had the opportunity to meet Jada. She was in a tutoring session when we arrived. When it was her turn to ride, she walked me to the tackroom to show me her responsibilities for grooming her horse. She grabbed the brushes and combs and she groomed the horse prior to riding. She spent the session riding by herself and it was obvious that she was full of confidence. I had the opportunity to meet her mother after the session and she spoke about Jada’s daring spirit and confidence. She gives a lot of credit to the James S. McFadden Center for spending the time working with her on academic skills. Jada is a child who will do great things because of programs like these.
The services that these amazing people provide are important. This partnership to improve the lives of so many is very new. They need people who are willing to volunteer, sponsor, and help fund the program. Many of the children who need this service cannot afford it. In order to truly empower the students and riders, this program requires the aid of special horses. The monthly needs to maintain the health and happiness of these horses is a huge expense. There are many ways you can help. You can find Summit Equestrian Center on Facebook or you can call them at 260-668-0266. If you if love horses, children, or you just want to make a difference, take time to reach out to them. You will not regret it.
I had an amazing experience with the McFadden Center and Summit Equestrian. Allison and Marie are instructors who invest so much into the riding skills and lessons they teach. Their passion for the mission and the children was evident during my short visit. Cathy and James are teachers whose caring attitude allows them to teach and develop the minds of their students. Everyone made me feel very welcome and they very much appreciated the time I spent with them. We will experience many things during our journey and we will work with a lot of great organizations. I know that after my experience this week, I will definitely invest more time and energy to the children and staff at the James S. McFadden Resource Center and Summit Equestrian Center.