On a trip to a nearby farm, Rachel discovered animals living in deplorable conditions. She saw horses whose hips, backbones, and ribs protruded sharply from beneath shaggy, dull coats. None of the animals on the farm had food or water, and Rachel did not see any evidence that the animals had been recently fed. Knowing that the animals needed help quickly, Rachel hurried home to call a local rescue named Habitat for Horses (HfH).
HfH began an investigation, and they found the conditions just as Rachel had described. Volunteers from HfH tried to educate the owner, but when conditions did not improve HfH and Lone Star Equine Rescue (LSER) worked together to seize the animals. The animals are now healthy and safe–thanks to Rachel’s quick thinking.
What makes this story different from the other sad rescue stories you’ve read? Rachel is only 13!
“We rarely get calls from kids who want to report neglect,” said Jerry Finch of HfH. “It seems that most kids think that adults won’t listen to them if they try to report neglect. If we hadn’t listened to Rachel, the horses and donkeys would have starved to death.”
Often, kids feel unwelcome or do not believe they can make a difference. Some-times, the people who run organizations seeking volunteers overlook kids and teenagers because they don’t think younger volunteers can contribute. But kids can make an enormous difference.
Raising Money And Unconditional Love
A group of girls from Austin, Texas, surprised and inspired members of Lone Star Equine Rescue with their creativity and hard work. The girls discovered the rescue when Sarah’s mom decided to adopt Selkie, an Arabian who was donated to LSER when her owner could no longer care for her. Sarah and Morgan spent time viewing the organization’s website and decided to do something to help the neglected horses.
Sarah and Morgan put together a benefit for LSER. They offered a petting zoo, pony rides, and other activities at Sarah’s house. They invited friends, neighbors, and horse people they knew. They asked anyone who attended to make a donation, and the girls raised over $800. They requested that
LSER use the money to help horses like Sophie who came to the rescue with a jaw that had been broken in three places by an abusive owner.
“Whenever someone does a fundraiser for LSER, all of the members get excited. But when I heard that it was two kids who had done the fundraiser, I was floored! They raised more than most of the fundraisers put on by adults!” said Regina Anderson, a previous treasurer for LSER.
Donna, a 13-year-old Texan, also became involved with LSER. When she gazed at Diana and Lacey, two skinny horses who were days away from starving to death when they came to LSER, she saw beauty. Their ribs, hips, and backbones jutted from beneath thin skin, and their hair was long and dull. When adults looked at these two mares, they cringed–but when Donna looked at them, her eyes shone, and she said that both mares were beautiful.
Diana and Lacey’s owners were investi-gated for animal neglect. But meanwhile, Donna visited the horses each day and spent hours brushing and caring for them. One day, Donna arrived with a package in her hand.
She shyly walked over to Diana and Lacey’s caretaker, Linda, and said, “I saved my allowance to buy Diana and Lacey their own halter. Now they’ll have something of their own and know that someone loves them.”
Because of Donna’s care, both horses learned to trust humans again, something they could not do when they first came to LSER, and they are slowly gaining weight and strength.
Helping Other Kids
Sarah, 15, has volunteered for almost a year at the HELP Center, a therapeutic riding center for disabled kids. The first day she volunteered, she worked with a 6-year-old autistic boy named Jackson.
The HELP Center’s Director, Linda Atkinson, remembered Sarah’s first days: “Some people don’t like to work with autistic kids because they have trouble communicating and that makes them feel uncomfortable. Sarah didn’t mind that Jackson had autism. She happily led the horse Jackson was riding. In fact, Sarah enjoyed working with Jackson so much that she signed up to volunteer on the nights he rode just so she could be with him!”
In the beginning, Sarah was responsible for leading Jackson’s horse during his lesson. After Jackson was comfortable with her and the HELP Center was confident in her abilities, she became a side-walker. Side-walkers walk alongside the horse to help the rider, sometimes repositioning him in the saddle or holding the rider so he does not fall off if the horse spooks or stumbles. The side-walkers also work with the rider, under the direction of the instructor, doing activities such as throwing balls, which helps build strength and balance and helps stretch out muscles that may not be used often. Side-walkers also talk to the kids and help work on speech problems.
Sarah didn’t stop with being a side-walker. She and Jackson developed such a great bond that she became his instructor. As an instructor, Sarah prepares Jackson’s lessons and directs the side-walkers. Sarah has been a calming influence on Jackson, and she is someone he can trust.
“Because of Sarah’s dedication, Jackson’s coordination and balance have improved. He can now hold himself upright during lessons and he no longer needs side-walkers to hold him in place,” said Atkinson. “He continues to improve, and Sarah has been instrumental in giving him the confidence to achieve more than many people thought possible.”
Laura Senseman is the program coordinator for Brazos Valley Rehab’s Hippotherapy Program in Bryan, Texas. “Teenage volunteers are invaluable,” she said. “In addition to caring for the horses, they help the trained physical and speech therapists who rehabilitate children, teenagers, and adults during riding sessions. They talk to the riders, play games with them, and help them move throughout their session.”
Laura believes the younger riders relate better to the teenage volunteers since they’re closer in age, and she said the younger riders are willing to work harder when their side-walkers are close to their age.
Therapeutic riding programs and rescue organizations aren’t the only groups with volunteer opportunities for young people. Horse associations and clubs that host horse shows put kids to work helping set up the arena, running the in- and out-gates, handing out ribbons, and helping in concession stands.
Summer camps with riding programs may allow teenage volunteers to help care for the horses or lead trail rides, and zoos that offer pony rides may need volunteers. By getting involved, these kids make a huge difference to needy horses or to other kids.
Tips For Parents
If your kids are interested in volunteering with an organization, your involvement can help make this a great experience for your kids. Kids can learn responsibility and compassion for others while volunteering. Volunteering alongside your kids will give you a chance to spend time with them doing something they love. The following tips will help you make this a good experience for your kids: