Volunteers are the backbone of many of the equine charities participating on the EQUUS Foundation Equine Welfare Network, and thanks to Ariat International, the EQUUS Foundation awards scholarships each year to some of the most deserving and dedicated. This year's recipients of EQUUS Foundation Equine Service Scholarships not only logged hundreds of volunteer hours, they also maintained an academic average of 92%.
Alexa Rennia, Grace Hetherington and Kyah Probst were awarded the $1,000 Champion of Equine Service Scholarships to assist with the pursuit of undergraduate studies. Nicole Offasonwas awarded the $1,000 Champion of Equine Service Scholarships to assist with the pursuit of graduate studies and the PATH International Champion of Equine Service Certification Scholarship to assist prospective instructors with the cost of obtaining the PATH International Registered Level Instructor Certification. Cari Farmer was awarded the $1,000 Champion of Equine Service Scholarships to members of the United States Pony Club to assist with the pursuit of undergraduate and graduate studies.
Megann Robinson was awarded the $1,500 Champion of Equine Service Scholarships to members of US Equestrian to assist with the pursuit of undergraduate and graduate studies.
Whether you are a competing equestrian, a pleasure rider, or a horse lover, everyone can do something to keep America's horses safe and loved. Alexa Rennia became a horse lover and horse protector when she volunteered to satisfy her community service requirement for high school graduation.
Prior to volunteering at Lucky Orphans Horse Rescue, she had very little knowledge of horses. "I had taken a few trail rides, but never thought of horses as anything more than farm animals," said Alexa. She learned that horses are incredible companions, teachers and healers, and continues to volunteer even after she fulfilled her requirement. Alexa works at the farm on weekends, feeding and watering, grooming, and mucking stalls.
Until she started volunteering, she was not aware that so many people were mistreating, abusing, and neglecting horses. "Taking care of the horses has given me a sense of purpose, and it's been a refreshing change from my stressful everyday grind. It's a time that I look forward to now every week." There are over fifty horses to be cared for at Lucky Orphans, each with different needs and special diets. All of the horses come from different backgrounds and have different personalities - and all have a special ability to heal people.
Alexa will be heading off to college in the fall at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. "I have gained a lot of experience by volunteering that I would have never attained elsewhere in my life. Now after spending so much time with the horses, I too feel the special bond that is created between horses and people."
A native of Sweden, Nicole had a unique high school experience at Bollerup, regarded as one of the top ten secondary schools in Sweden, and a model farm, where the 250 resident students also learn about farming and horses. At Bollerup, Nicole found her true passion for horses - gaining advanced experience in dressage and in carriage driving.
"When I graduated, I knew I wanted to work with horses and was ready to test my wings," said Nicole. She moved from Sweden to Valencia, Spain, as a horse trainer and groom for a nationally competitive team carriage driver. From there, she took a job outside of Madrid as a four-in-hand driver and a team driver for about 30 horses. Returning home to Sweden briefly, she then set out to Orange County, California, to exercise and train horses in dressage and carriage driving – both in singles and in team. "But, after a year of disagreements with the owner over training methods, I became disenchanted. When my contract was up, I was not motivated to find another horse job. I needed to find myself."
Nicole Offason is now majoring in Recreation Therapy at California State University Long Beach, and is also pursuing a certificate in Gerontology. Fate brought horses back into Nicole's life. During her first semester, Nicole had an assignment to interview a supervisor of a therapeutic recreation program and found the Therapeutic Riding Center of Huntington Beach. While she was waiting for the supervisor, she observed a lesson that was taking place, and what she was observed was magical.
Nicole started volunteering as a side walker, and a horse leader, and with her extensive experience of both riding and carriage driving, helped school and train the horses. In November, she was named the volunteer captain - the Go-To person for the volunteers.
Nicole is planning to become a PATH certified riding instructor this summer, and hopes to become a PATH certified driving instructor later this year. She also plans to pursue a Master's degree in occupational therapy. "Volunteering at the Therapeutic Riding Center of Huntington Beach brought a new meaning and a new purpose in my life. Helping children and adults with disabilities during their therapeutic riding lessons is connecting my future occupation with my life-long passion for horses."
It was horses and volunteering that provided Nicole with career goals to be recreational therapist, an occupational therapist, a therapeutic riding instructor, and a therapeutic driving instructor. "Five long years passed before I was back with horses", said Nicole. "As soon as I was back, I knew what had been missing all those years."
When Grace was nine, she decided to trade in my softball mitt and swim cap for breeches and boots. Now a high school freshman, Grace is competing in the High Childrens and Low Junior Jumpers with her two horses, Warsteiner and Elisco de Beaufour. But the lessons she learned from horses came from both in and out of the saddle.
She learned the essentials of riding by participating in the Pony Club, but just as importantly, she learned how to care for horses through the Pony Club horsemanship program. Horses taught her patience, humility, perseverance, courage, confidence, selflessness, respect, care and friendship. Early on, she learned from the horses - some who were not perfectly trained or matched to her abilities - to accept her limitations and those of the horses, and "they taught me a thing or two about being selfless," said Grace.
Grace co-founded "Equestrians That Serve" with fellow recipients, Cari Farmer and Megann Robinson, to create volunteer and educational opportunities in the equine field for young equestrians. Little did she know when she started volunteering at Lift Me Up Therapeutic Riding that just by being able to lead rope a horse, she could change a child's balance, gait and attitude. Serving as a Junior Ambassador at the Washington International Horse Show presented Grace with the opportunity to use her creativity to improve the show for the riders and audience. By volunteering at organizations such as Lift Me Up, the Washington International Horse Show, and the Pony Club, Grace makes a difference in her community and affect people's lives.
"There are 7,475,000,000 people living in the world, and that number continues to rise," said Grace. "It will never cease to amaze me how many people in this world are better because of horses. If I can help one person out of all of the seven billion people, then it's well worth it. My volunteer experiences are worth more than words can describe, and I hope to continue and inspire others to get involved."
When Kyah was in the third grade, she was diagnosed with PDDNOS, a disorder like Aspergers, ADHD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. She had a variety of sensory issues and struggled to make friends and achieve academically. Her solace came in the summers when she visited her grandmother's ranch in Wisconsin, where she formed an emotional connection with the horses, cows and barn cats. "Those few months in the summer were pure bliss for me," said Kyah. The act of dutifully, routinely mucking stalls, grooming, and feeding the horses showed her how to apply those skills at home with things like homework and chores, and helped manage her stress. Horses were calming, encouraging, and offered a different kind of sensory input.
The time spent at her grandmother's ranch in Wisconsin was the reason she began volunteering, when she was a high school junior, at Ride On St. Louis, an equine therapy center for children and adults with disabilities. Kyah volunteers as a sidewalker for clients participating in equine-assisted activities and therapies. Sidewalkers aid the client's balance and make the client feel comfortable. They supply the client with the proper helmet, assist with mounting and dismounting, walk and/or jog next to the horse, help with props and equipment, and supervise the client when off the horse and entering/exiting the paddock at the beginning and end of each session. "Kyah is courteous, responsible, a good listener, helpful, respectful of instructor's goals and requests during sessions and punctual, "said Kyah's supervisor Marita Wassman.
By the end of her first season, she witnessed several different children vastly improve their abilities to move and communicate. Ride On St. Louis provides an environment where everyone involved can learn, build, and grow. "Horses are my gateway to forming relationships," said Kyah. "I found a healthy, productive way to help others, relieve stress, and spend time with people who are all passionate about the same things while caring for beautiful animals that are making an impact on the lives of hundreds of people."
Kyah is a home-schooled student who is in her final year of high school. By the time she graduates, she will have over a semester of college credit which she earned through dual-credit at the local community college. She will acquire an associate of arts in teaching by fall of 2018. She hopes to pursue a career as a secondary English teacher, and will continue to volunteer at Ride On St. Louis in the future.
At the young age of nine, Megann Robinson recalls, "My first instructor strongly emphasized the importance of developing a relationship with your equine partner, and this became the basis of my philosophy toward riding." In 2013, her partnership with a beautiful Irish Sporthorse, Fernhill Popstar (Poppy), led her to eventing, and in 2015, she joined Difficult Run Pony Club (DRPC).
Poppy taught Megann skills in dressage, cross country and show jumping, and eventually she advanced to the Novice level. "I learned to take responsibility for both of us. I listened to cues he was giving me, and applied them, and that is when we truly began to progress. Having a partner who depends on me taught me to think of someone else first, and do what' s right for my partner."
One of the requirements of participation in the Pony Club is giving back to the community. Megann taught groups of Girl Scouts various aspects of horsemanship, demonstrated dressage and jumping with her horse Poppy, gave tours, and explained horse care. She also provided certification training to the junior Pony Club members. Her volunteer effort in support of the Great Meadow International FEI Nations Cup earned the respect and appreciation of the Nation's Cup officials.
In 2016, Megan received the Leadership Award from the United States Pony Club District Commissioner. "Her spirit of leadership and acts of kindness embody the character which the Pony Club stands for," said coach Pamela Kadlubek.
The experience of teaching children, introducing them to new aspects of horsemanship, and instilling passion and excitement was deeply satisfying for Megann, and led her to work with disabled children at Lift Me Up Therapeutic Riding, where she witnessed the amazing transformation in children because of horses.
These volunteer experiences inspired Megann and fellow recipients, Cari Farmer and Grace Hetherington, to establish Equestrians That Serve, to inspire, educate and empower student equestrians through community service and educational initiatives. Well on her away to achieving Champion recognition for 2017 by the EQUUS Foundation, she said, "We hope to expand our membership in 2017 so that more equestrians will experience the immense satisfaction derived from being able to help others and the magic and power of horses to change lives."
Horses have been a part of Cari's life since she was 8 years old. Her "basic training" began in middle school when she joined the United States Pony Club where she earned her C-2 rating and was first introduced to volunteerism. She also participated in the Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA).
In 2015, Cari co-founded "Equestrians That Serve" with a few friends to create volunteer and educational opportunities in the equine field for young equestrians. Cari is now in her third year with the Foal Watch program at the Virginia Tech Marion duPont Scott Equine Center where she is trained to take care of baby foals and pregnant mares. After breaking her collarbone in a riding accident in 2016 and being unable to ride, it was volunteering that kept Cari connected to horses. She continued to volunteer for the Difficult Run Pony Club - painting and repairing cross-country jumps, designing girl scout horsemanship seminars and conducting urban pony rides.
She also volunteered for Lift Me Up Therapeutic Riding Center, which provides the therapeutic benefits of riding to children with special needs. In the fall, she was accepted as a Junior Ambassador for the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS), and was introduced to the many aspects of show management that are required to make a horse show great.
Now 16 and looking back, Cari said: "I've ridden green babies, retired FEI horses, Off-the-Track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs), bratty ponies and pretty much everything in between. I am hoping one day I can compete again like I used to, but it's not just about riding. Equestrians That Serve and the EQUUS Foundation opened doors for me to work with horses and can for many young equestrians who want to pursue their lifelong passion to work with horses."
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About EQUUS Foundation
The EQUUS Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity established in 2002, also known as Horse Charities of America, the only national animal welfare charity in the United States dedicated solely to horse welfare and the horse-human bond. Donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. Contact the EQUUS Foundation, Inc., at 168 Long Lots Road, Westport, CT 06880, Tele: (203) 259-1550, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Website: www.equusfoundation.org.
About Ariat International
Ariat International, Inc. is the leading manufacturer of innovative performance equestrian footwear, apparel and belts. Featuring a patented technology designed to deliver stability, durability and comfort, Ariat pioneered the application of advanced athletic shoe technology into English riding boots and authentic Western boots. Ariat products are sold in a network of retail outlets throughout the world. For more information about Ariat products or for the Ariat retailer nearest you, contact Ariat at 800.899.8141 or visit www.ariat.com.