Freedom Hooves kicks off new season with volunteer training
Freedom Hooves volunteer training
10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, April 27
Freedom Hooves facility, 900 Johnson Road
An additional training is scheduled for May 21. For more information, call 970-701-9085.
At Freedom Hooves Therapeutic Riding of Northwest Colorado, it’s hard to say who is being helped more: the participants or the volunteers.
The program is marking its seventh year in Moffat County and is kicking off the season with a volunteer training Saturday, April 27, welcoming both new and experienced volunteers.
“People might think the only people we help are the clients, but volunteering can help you so much. You learn so much about the animals and you learn people skills, which is something I didn’t expect,” said 14-year-old Kendra Eike, who has been volunteering with Freedom Hooves for five years.
The organization serves a wide range of people in Northwest Colorado, from individuals with developmental and physical disabilities to those suffering from depression and mental illness to seniors, veterans, families and at-risk youth. Program offerings are diverse — serving about 50 participants in 2018 — as are volunteer opportunities.
“Everything is new every single day, you just kind of jump in and do whatever needs doing. It definitely isn’t boring,” said Eike, who often spends four or five days a week volunteering in the summertime even when she’s only scheduled for two.
Enthusiasm for the new season, which runs from May through October, is palpable as the organization welcomes two new leaders to the helm: new executive director Connie Sue Ellis, who has been deeply involved with the organization since its inception and owns the facility that hosts the program, and program director Talisha Christiansen.
Hailing from California, Christiansen brings many years of experience riding and working with horses as well as a degree in equine behavior and training from Utah State University.
“The pieces fell in place when I came out and met Connie and the board, and I fell in love with it,” Christiansen said. “In my family and in my home we grew up doing service, it’s part of what I love and how I interact with people. I was really happy to be able to put the two things together with horses and service. And to see how well they do that out here is really awesome and inspiring.”
After only a week on the job, Christiansen, who will also serve as a riding instructor in the ring, has discovered a great love for working with individual participants and helping them to meet their needs and goals.
The training runs from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday includes hands-on training on how to lead or walk alongside a horse in support of participants on horseback. A Q&A session follows. Volunteer duties range from assisting riders in the ring to helping with grooming, mucking stalls, organizing fundraisers, and a variety of other needs.
An additional training is scheduled for May 21.
“It takes as many as three volunteers per participant for some of our participants” in addition to the instructor and assistant in the ring, Ellis said. “It takes a team to provide services for even just one participant.”
The organization had about 50 volunteers last year — logging more than 5,000 hours collectively — and hopes to recruit at least as many this year, Ellis said. Volunteers typically help out a few hours a week, though some may volunteer as little as one hour and others many more.
“I think we’re out there four or five days per week,” said Cathy Pearson, Freedom Hooves’ 2018 Volunteer of the Year.
Pearson’s son participates in the Ranch Hand Program designed for youth overcoming challenges, teaching them both important job and life skills as well as horsemanship.
“It’s really a very positive experience… It’s been a great confidence booster for myself and my son,” Pearson said.
As for what she finds most rewarding, “it’s working with the clients and seeing the joy that it brings them, or hearing the first words from kids that have autism or the first time they will look at somebody.”
All volunteers, new and old, must attend at least one training every year. Curious community members are welcome to attend on Saturday, and are also invited to drop in on weekly Tuesday night trainings for therapy horses.
“Our volunteers are everyone from retired community members to young people. There’s a job for everyone in our volunteer group,” Ellis said.