BRISTOL – With the seasons soon turning and covid numbers dipping, the nonprofit Shepard Meadows Therapeutic Riding Center is looking to once again bring volunteers to its grounds to help in providing services for those in need.
“We used to have hundreds of people volunteering and then covid hit. We had to shut our doors,” said center staff member, Amy Degumbia. “We’re really just beginning to open back up and that’s why these orientations are so important.”
The center will start the first Saturday of each coming month with a general volunteer orientation. The second Saturday will focus on sidewalker training and the third Saturday will be lead and tacking training by invitation.
Those interested in helping often help clean stalls or other barn chores and have the opportunity to learn further skills.
Tacking and lead training requires a bit more advanced horse handling technique, said Degumbia. Tacking is the action of putting on a horse’s riding equipment. Leading a horse refers to the action of guiding its direction while one is on the ground. Side walker training focuses on assisting an individual who is actively riding a horse while walking alongside. Degumbia said these three actions were important components when using horses for therapy treatment. She noted there could be four individuals, including an instructor, utilized when making use of equine-centered therapy in assisting a client.
Among some of its services, the center offers basic riding lessons, has therapeutic riding opportunities, unmounted learning, veterans treatment opportunities, behavioral health therapy opportunities and more. The center has seven therapy horses.
“We’re all animal and horse lovers,” said Degumbia of center staff. “To be able to share that with people, some kids have never been on a farm before or touched an animal, it really grounds you. It makes you have to connect in that moment and absorb what’s happening. There’s a lot happening in the world today and when you’re with the horses, you’re with them.”
Sister Ann Frances Thompson, center volunteer coordinator, said that those looking to volunteer need no experience.
“It’s helpful if you do have it, but if you’ve got zero experience, we do a lot of education,” she said. “You learn a lot just by being around. There’s a lot of clean up and feeding, and that’s the best way to learn what it’s like being on a farm and getting used to it. It also helps (volunteers) learn who the staff are.”
Thompson stressed that the center focuses on safety and those with equine-handling experience are especially welcomed. For those looking for more information or to volunteer with the center, they can contact Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 860-314-0007, ext. 106.