Volunteers are the lifeblood of Reins to Recovery Inc. Therapeutic Riding Center.
Because of them, the new indoor arena has water and electricity lines, six horse stalls are in place in another barn, trees and brush have been cleared from the miniature horse area and a memorial garden for one of the facility’s horses exists out front.
Volunteers also are key to helping with therapeutic riding, equine-assisted psychotherapy, equine-assisted learning and recreational lessons for children and adults with disabilities, victims of violence and abuse and at-risk youth. They help with general cleanup and maintenance tasks, too.
Since the center opened July 1, 2016, at its new location along U.S. 31 north of Reddington, volunteers have helped the staff make it what it is today.
Still, there’s always a need for more volunteers.
“It makes us or breaks us because honestly, we wouldn’t be able to facilitate the lessons we do without the volunteers, especially with our therapeutic riding, the riding portion,” executive director Calli Johnson said.
Those lessons require an instructor, a horse leader and a sidewalker.
Just spending an hour to help with a lesson or tend to the horses or grounds can make a big difference.
“It would absolutely free up some of our time,” said Johnson, who is among the six-member staff. “We’re a barn family, but our barn family has families, as well, so it’s hard when you’ve got to juggle all of that. It’s tough, but somehow, we manage to continue with our lessons, which is our priority, and keep our horses sound and healthy.”
Instructor Janette Coulter said she used to have upwards of 30 volunteers. She now has 22, and a good portion of them volunteer more than once a week and for several hours at a time.
“I’m having to double up on a lot of my volunteers just because we lost so many,” she said. “Part of that is out in the sun, and some can’t handle that for very long. For the most part, all of my volunteers understand just how hard it is to replace them, so they do try to give me at least 24 hours’ notice when they can’t be here.”
Volunteers must be 13 or older and go through a mock lesson as part of their training. Those younger than 13 can help get horses and feed, tack and groom them.
“We ask that they commit for a 10-week session if at all possible because your rider gets used to you, and you get used to what your rider does,” said Kristye Lewis, chairwoman of Reins to Recovery’s fundraising committee.
Lessons are conducted Monday through Thursday, and with two arenas now available, Johnson said they can do two different types of lessons at once.
A new therapeutic riding instructor just started the certification process, so more volunteers will be needed to help.
“We’re running multiple programs on the same day now with the expansion of the arenas, which has been a huge help, but again, it calls for a need for volunteers when we start doubling up on programs that need volunteers,” Johnson said.
The indoor arena that was donated to Reins to Recovery was constructed by a contractor and finished in December. It has a wooden frame with a metal roof and siding.
During Jackson County United Way Day of Caring in May, volunteers ran water and electric lines to the barn. Johnson said she received some assistance with lighting, but she’s looking for monetary sponsors to finish it off.
“We just need to hang lights and put in some fixtures, and we’re going to be good there just in time for fall,” she said. “We have to purchase the correct bulbs for them. We may need to purchase a little bit more line to run into the barn and then the receptacles is kind of what we’re looking at.”
Johnson said she has asked for a couple of quotes for that work.
“That’s kind of our focus right now to get us set up for fall weather turning darker in the evening hours,” she said.
The barn has been used a few times this summer when it rained, which Johnson said has been nice because the other arena is not covered.
“The whole goal out here was to expand our facility so we can pull riders off the wait list,” she said. “We’ve been able to accomplish that slowly. We’re still looking for a little bit of funding to continue on with that project.”
Coulter said the clients have liked the indoor barn.
“Because of the way the doors are positioned, we don’t have a lot of airflow, and we can’t take fans up in there yet because of the lack of electricity, but we’ve been really blessed this year with a very mild summer,” she said.
“I think I’ve only actually had to cancel out here maybe twice for the heat, and now, if there’s any kind of rain or anything going on, we just go up in there,” she said. “When it’s raining and you’ve got that cool air floating around, it’s nice in that barn.”
Johnson said the outdoor arena eventually will be enclosed and have a main entrance and a foyer.
She is seeking quotes for the first phase to put a roof over the arena to protect people from the elements. She said she hopes to get the posts and roof up no later than February or March 2018.
“This is a big arena. This is a lot of money up front,” Johnson said. “As the donations and the support continue to come in, then we’re able to shift into what we need and make that happen as we can.”
Volunteers played a crucial role in the barn with the horse stalls. The Columbus Icemen hockey team helped move three indoor stalls and a loft from one side of the barn to the other.
Leftover materials from the indoor arena were used to add a lean-to on the north side of the barn to put over three horse stalls.
The Icemen plan to come back once their season starts to build the final three stalls inside the barn. All nine stalls have sponsors and will be recognized with plaques.
“We’ve had individuals attempt it, but time just sometimes gets the best of all of our schedules,” Johnson said of finishing the stalls and doing groundskeeping. “We can’t keep up sometimes out here with facilitating lessons and providing the services. Some of the grounds-keeping gets away from us.”
In the miniature horse lot, Day of Caring volunteers helped cut down trees and brush, which gives more area for the horses to roam and graze.
Those volunteers also helped place flowers, bushes, gravel and rock for a memorial garden for Spirit, a Reins to Recovery horse that died in 2016 from respiratory issues.
“She had some health issues with her breathing, so we had to make the tough decision,” Johnson said. “We’ve retired multiple horses for different reasons, but not one that had to come down to instantly making that call, so that was tough.”
Spirit was 28 years old and had served Reins to Recovery for about eight years. The monument has a picture of Spirit with the message “You galloped through our lives and left hoof prints on our hearts. We will love you forever.”
“She lived a long, good life, and she loved her job out here,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen horses live well into their 30s. Once they get into their mid to late 20s, we would consider that a well-aged horse. If you’re talking minis, they can live into their 30s and 40s.”
Johnson said she’s grateful for the nearly 50 people who helped on Day of Caring. She said about 15 pieces of large equipment were running in different areas.
“They knocked out projects that would have taken us every bit of a year in one day,” she said. “It was incredible. It was surreal. It all just came together. It spoke volumes about United Way Day of Caring and what it does for organizations as a whole. In the community, when you come together like that, the impact it can truly make, people don’t sometimes understand.”
Reins to Recovery
Reins to Recovery Inc. Therapeutic Riding Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that offers therapeutic riding, equineassisted psychotherapy, equine-assisted learning and recreational lessons to children and adults with disabilities, victims of violence and abuse and at-risk youth.
The center is at 10861 U.S. 31 North, north of Reddington.
For information or to find out about volunteer opportunities, call 812-350-4864, visit reinstorecovery.org or find the organization on Facebook.