As an equine professional, you are a busy person and probably don’t have a lot of free time. So when horse clubs and other charities ask for volunteers, you may think that you can’t take the time away from your business, even though it would be a great thing to do. But you may not realize that just a few hours invested volunteering can pay off in many ways.
Benefits of Volunteering
• First, volunteering makes you feel good. The horse industry and your local community support your business, and volunteering for a worthy cause gives you the chance to give something back to them. You will probably have fun meeting new people, and time spent volunteering gives you a break from the stress and responsibilities of your own business.
• You make a world of difference to the animals or people you help. Whether you retrain horses at a rescue or teach 4-H kids how to show their horses, you influence the lives you touch. Furthermore, you set a great example for your clients, especially youth clients, and they may decide to get involved, too. In fact, volunteering together can be an activity that builds barn community and cooperation.
• You expand your circle of contacts. While volunteering, you meet other horse enthusiasts. The sister of a child you help during a therapeutic riding session may become your next student. The person who adopts a horse you trained for a rescue may come to you for additional training or lessons. The parents of a child you coached in 4-H may buy one of your sale horses. Carry business cards and talk to the people you meet.
Places to Volunteer
The horse world offers several opportunities to volunteer:
1) Horse rescue. Many rescue operations use foster homes to house and rehabilitate their horses. If this daily commitment is too much for you, many rescues also need professional trainers to donate their time to give clinics to their foster homes or judge at horse shows put on as fundraisers.
2) Therapeutic riding programs. Many of these organizations need volunteers. Trainers may help evaluate potential therapeutic mounts, and they always need volunteers to assist as side-walkers during lessons. Side-walkers help the rider balance on his horse and interact with him under the direction of an instructor or therapist. Equine professionals who are interested may even train to become a therapeutic riding instructor.
3) 4-H/Pony Club. These youth organizations are constantly on the look out for trainers who can help teach participants to ride, train and prepare their horses for shows. If you can’t commit to weekly riding sessions, you could be a guest speaker at one of the group’s meetings or volunteer to conduct a clinic.
4) Horse club/association. Local, regional and national horse clubs and associations need volunteers to help with fundraising, promotions, and to serve as officers and board members. Many of these organizations are completely volunteer-run.
5) Horse show circuit. Local charity horse show circuits need volunteers for myriad positions, from the registration desk to ring steward to gate person. These jobs often require only a day or two commitment, and many take little training to perform. Without this volunteer support, though, these shows can’t function—so helping out at a local show keeps that show operating for years to come.
What to Expect
One of the biggest reasons people don’t volunteer is because they don’t know what to expect. And once people do volunteer, one of the most common reasons they stop is because the experience wasn’t what they thought it would be. Having realistic expectations when you volunteer will make the experience much more enjoyable.
The organization you volunteer for is counting on you, so keep that commitment. If you agree to teach a clinic, don’t cancel because something better comes along. If you have an emergency, call the organization and let them know that you won’t make your volunteer shift. These organizations rely on volunteers and because you are not paid, they have little leverage—it’s simply a matter of trust.
Expect to work during your volunteer shift. Some volunteers show up expecting to socialize and have fun, but you are volunteering to work and should carry out your assigned tasks. Sometimes you may get done with plenty of time to socialize, while other times you may not.
In the end, volunteering is about working, having fun and feeling good about the animals or people you help—and it might be a chance to boost business at the same time!