Last week was the start of the summer session at the therapeutic riding center, and Leah and I had signed up for the same shift we had done last time which is for three classes. The center was so short of volunteers, though, that we helped them with an extra shift one day and then stayed after our regular shift on another day to help with an evening shift (the latter of which we'll be doing every week now.)
We had such a wonderful time there! I cannot put into words how very much Leah and I both love volunteering there . . . it is so very special and so rewarding working with both the precious children and the adults.
For our regular shift, we always arrive early and as we were visiting with other volunteers last week, who should come walking up but the veteran that I had worked with the most during the spring session! That was a pleasant surprise! He is a really nice man, around my parents' ages, and it was so good to see him again. When I went up to greet him and asked him if he had come to ride, he told me that he had signed up to be a volunteer! I didn't think we'd see him again, and now we will each week. :)
(As this photo was really washed out thanks to the bright sun and my cell phone, I tried different photo editing options, hence the sepia color. :)Soon after, the riders began coming, and then began some very full wonderful hours. Leah and I sidewalked together save for one of the five classes which was fun! We work well together as a team as we can 'read' each other really well which is especially helpful when working with children that need a lot of assistance. All the riders were new ones for us to work with save for 'my' Will and 'Leah's' Will (there are two special little boys with the same name in the same class so we call them 'hers' and 'mine' to help tell which is which. :)
Our first class was the veterans, and our job with them is pretty simple. Just walk alongside the horse, visit with the rider as they ride, and then help with little things like getting their feet back into the stirrups after exercises. The veteran we worked with was a really pleasant man, and we had an enjoyable time working with him!
While we waited to start the next class, Leah and I were looking at the clipboard which lists the riders and horses used for each class. The head of the center came over to us, smile on her face, and asked if we were looking for Will. :) She knows how much I love working with him! There was still one more class before his, though . . .
The next little rider we helped was a quiet and sweet boy who we enjoyed working with! His family would wave and cheer him on just about every time we came around the arena. He loved that and would light up with such a sweet smile and wave back! We talked with him and helped him with the exercises and simply had fun spending time with him.
Then came the class with both Wills! It was so good to see 'my' Will again! And his mom and little sisters, too. His mom told us that when the little girls found out they were going to the riding center to see the horses, they asked "and the goats, too?" It was cute! It was so nice to spend that time with Will, and we had fun together . . . he was being a little tease part of the time!
Next we had a quick break between shifts so after an enjoyable time visiting with Will's mom and holding and talking with her little girls, Leah and I took the opportunity to get something to drink. It was a hot and humid day with the temperature in the low 90's and the heat index higher than that so the ice cold drinks we had in the cooler were refreshing!
Horses and arena all ready to go!
As parents started coming for the next class, I noticed one couple with their adorable little two (edited to add: now three :) year old son who has Down Syndrome. I went over and started talking with them, meanwhile Leah helped them find a helmet that fit him better. The poor little guy was having a hard time as this was all very new to him! Before long, the instructor lifted him onto his horse, Leah and I were on each side of him holding him securely, and off we went. It was harder for the first little while as he would lean way over to Leah or I, crying and trying to pull himself off into our arms. It kind of breaks your heart, though you know that it is for his good!
Each time, after a bit of time of him holding tightly to us, we would gently pull him back up into a sitting position, help him find the handles, and then repeat the process over again. We sang to him, too, as that always seems to help soothe the little ones who are crying. As time went by, the crying lessened, and before long, he was sitting up all by himself holding on! We were so proud of him! The entire class session was spent encouraging him, singing at times, doing the therapy exercises with him, and by the end of his class . . . he waved to his parents with a tiny smile on his face!
While we waited for the instructor to come dismount him, I started playing with him . . . tapping his hand, running my fingers up his arm and tickling his neck, and he started grinning and grinning, his eyes all lit up. It was so special and definitely a heart-melt moment! When one of the instructors (who is head of the center) came to take him off, he didn't even want to come down. The instructor told Leah and I "You two have to sidewalk with him next week." We can't wait! (edited to add: he did great this week! And I was able to hold him and play with him a bit, too, which was special. :)
Our last class of the day was with a sweet girl with Down Syndrome who is around 7. We really enjoyed working with her! She had ridden there before so this time, she graduated to a faster, bigger horse. The girl who was leading the horse did such a good job keeping the horse moving at a fast pace, and we ended up spending most of the class in the center of the arena passing the other horses. Our little rider sure liked it. :)
We loved working with the veteran and each of these very special children! What a great blessing to have this opportunity . . . and how thankful we are for God opening this door for us!
So there's a summary of what one of our days was like at the center last week, and what we are going to be able to very much enjoy each week. If you all lived closer, I'd invite you over to come help volunteer, too! :)