Senior Connections Senior Connections Jan 2019 - Page 6

Riding facility offers volunter opportunities for people of all ages and abilities MARK MITTEN Correspondent Approximately 10 years ago, Jackie Regan heard about a non-profi t organization called We Can Ride, and immediately decided she wanted to volunteer. She had limited horse experience at the time, and little exposure to people with disabilities, but soon realized how volunteering gave her a unique sense of belonging and contribution. We Can Ride is a therapeutic horseback riding center located at the old mounted patrol facility in Baker Park Reserve in Three Rivers Park District, just outside of Maple Plain. It is the largest and oldest therapeutic riding center in Minnesota, in operation since 1982. According to its mission statement, We Can Ride is a volunteer-based organization whose mission is “to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities or special needs through equine- assisted activities.” The age range of volunteers varies, and includes senior-aged individuals. As a violin player for most of her life, Regan had been heavily involved in an orchestra association in the Twin Cities for 23 years. Then, she decided she wanted to try something completely new. “I wanted something that would give me some exercise, and if animals were involved, that would be a plus,” Regan recalled. A friend told her about We Can Ride, and within days, Regan signed up as a volunteer. Her fi rst tasks were to help feed horses, tag and inventory items in preparation for a spring tack sale, and sweep the barn aisle. Not long after that, she took a training course that taught her how to assist in classes. Regan became a “sidewalker,” an able-bodied volunteer who walks next to a rider during class, as a precaution, to offer balance or assistance if needed. “I’ve been a sidewalker, a horse leader, a barn aid, a feeder, and I’ve done a lot of barn maintenance,” said Regan. She has also participated in fundraisers, offi ce tasks, horse blanket cleaning and repair, and more. The only prior horse experience Regan had was from occasional trail rides. The fi rst time she got to ride a horse was when she was about 8 years old. Regan remembers that the horse jumped over a ditch in a fi eld, but she hung on successfully. As an adult, in 1999, Regan signed up for a mountain horsepacking excursion in Colorado. She spent fi ve days in the wilderness in Gunnison National Forest, guided by professional wranglers. In the saddle, Regan ventured across snow pack, rock scree, and crossed streams. She enjoyed it so much, she returned to repeat the experience two more times. 6 Senior As a volunteer in a therapeutic riding lesson at We Can Ride, Jackie Regan led a horse around the arena while the rider, Lauren Clements, responded to the instructor’s directions. Volunteers are often required in classes for many roles, such as sidewalking or leading the horse, and assisting with horse preparation. PHOTO SUBMITTED BY WE CAN RIDE At We Can Ride, there are 136 volunteers who are age 60 and older. They compose 14 percent of the volunteer base. Executive Director Mary Mitten said there are a variety of opportunities that seniors can help with – even those who may have limited mobility or physical strength. For example, a senior volunteer recently contributed time and effort to sort through a box of photographs and organize them by date. “We Can Ride is 36 years old, so there are a lot of photos,” Mitten said. “These are the only copies we have. [The volunteer] is organizing them so we can use those for historical purposes. That makes my job easier. Even though some of our volunteer jobs may not seem mission-centric, it is so important to have that done so we can concentrate on what is important.” Regan has a similar perspective. More RIDING on Pg 9 Connections January 2019 Senior Connections HJ.COM