We don’t require horse experience or experience with special-needs people.  All that’s required are patience and enthusiasm! We do require that volunteers be at least 14 years old.  We hold volunteer orientations at 9:00 a.m., at the barn on the first Saturday of the month.  Dave Rybicki, president of the Horseplay board of directors leads the orientation, and we hope you’ll join us!

Click here to watch the orientation video.

 Volunteering at Horseplay Therapeutic Riding Center can be a very rewarding experience.  We offer many opportunities in which to volunteer. Pre-session Preparation, Leading or sidewalking during sessions, Horse Care, Help with Fundraising, and Outreach.  Click on Steps to Becoming a Volunteer to find out how you can join our Horseplay family!

 Sidewalking at Horseplay

Sidewalkers are the ones who normally do the most hands-on duties in therapeutic riding.  They are directly responsible for the rider. As such, they have the capability to either enhance or detract from the lesson. In the arena, the sidewalker should help the student focus his attention on the instructor or assigned task. Try to avoid unnecessary talking with either the rider or other volunteers.

Too much input from too many directions is very confusing to anyone, and to riders who have perceptual problems, it can be overwhelming. If two sidewalkers are working with one student, one should be the designated talker to avoid this situation. When the instructor gives a direction, allow your student plenty of time to process it. If the instructor says, “Turn to the right toward me,” and the rider seems confused, tap the right hand and say “right” to reinforce the command. You will get to know the riders and learn when they need help and when they’re not paying attention.

It’s important to maintain a position by the rider’s knee. Being too far forward or back will make it difficult to assist with instructions or provide security if the horse should trip or shy. There are two ways to hold onto the rider without interfering. The most commonly used is the “arm-over-thigh” hold on the rider’s thigh. Be careful that the elbow doesn’t accidentally dig into the rider’s leg. Sometimes pressure on the leg can increase muscle spasticity, especially with the cerebral palsy population.

In this case, the “therapeutic hold” may be used. Here, the leg is held at the joints, usually the knee or ankle. Check with the instructor for the best way to assist. In the event of an emergency, the arm-over-thigh hold is the most secure. Avoid wrapping an arm around the rider’s waist. It is tempting, especially when walking beside a pony with a young or small rider, but it can offer too much and uneven support. At times, it can pull the rider off balance and make riding more difficult. Encourage your student to use their own trunk muscles to the best of their abilities.

During exercises, pay attention to your student. Sometimes volunteers forget that the riders are to do exercises and the sidewalkers are to reinforce and assist. The same applies to games. The ultimate goal for therapeutic riding is to encourage the rider to stretch and grow to be as independent as he or she can possibly be. You are right at riders’ sides, so help the instructor to challenge them to the best of their abilities.