Horseriding students volunteer to help disabled peers

Meghan Dincler | Staff Writer

Every weekend, volunteers saddle up to help people with disabilities. 

Bridge Riding for the Disabled is an organization where people with disabilities can get unique therapy through riding horses. It helps them improve balance, independence, and motor skills, among other things. With the help of Program Director Pat Howe and a group of volunteers, those with disabilities can learn to ride horses and have experiences they might not be able to have otherwise.

Two of these volunteers are Mason High School students, sophomore Audrey Galloway and senior Jordan Auriana. Galloway volunteers there in the summer and is a strong supporter of the program. She said she loves what it does for the riders, and that it is a big help to those who participate.

“I think it’s so beneficial,” Galloway said. “When the kids are on the horses, they’ll be able to keep their body centered. It’s this whole mental and physical exercise that just keeps them up and going.”

Auriana has been with the program for almost six years, and she said it is a huge help for the students. She volunteers as well as rides, and said she loves the horses and the kids.

“The volunteers are all willing to help the child in any way they can, and just talk to them and be around them,” Auriana said. “I knew that I wanted to help with children. My goal after high school is to help with younger kids.”

The program has been around for over 30 years and was started with the riders in mind. The volunteers take all the precautions to make sure the riders comfortable and have the best therapy experience possible. According to Auriana, safety has always been their goal.

“Safety is the number one priority,” Auriana said. “If anything, just make sure the kids can get on and off the horse with no problem, and just have fun with them.”

Howe, who runs Bridge Riding for the Disabled, has worked to grow the program and make it as accessible as possible for those who need it. The organization is a nonprofit, and it costs 40 dollars for the riders for an hour therapy session. She said the program has helped riders achieve big things for the first time, and that is why being available for anyone who needs it is so important.

“We’ve had youngsters say their first words here,” Howe said. “That’s a feeling that even right now gives me chills. We’ve also had first steps–people that have had to walk with assistance have taken their first steps unassisted.”

Howe said her experience working with the riders has been a very rewarding experience for both the kids and the volunteers. She said people had gotten involved with the organization solely to get service hours for various clubs, but have stayed because they love what the organization does.

“Volunteers often say to me that they get more out of the program than they feel like they give,” Howe said. “And that’s saying a lot.”

Galloway says that in her years volunteering, working with the kids and getting to see them grow and learn with her help has been a very rewarding experience for her. It has helped her grow as a person and has allowed her to meet new people and learn new things. 

“I definitely get a lot out of helping the kids,” Galloway said. “Being able to work with them every day, you can understand their perspective and how things in their lives have to work. It’s really sweet and you definitely get a lot out of the program.”

Galloway said she has enjoyed getting to know the kids, and by working with them every week, she has grown to learn a lot more about them and their personalities. She also said she has learned more about herself through caring for the horses and helping the riders.

“One of [the riders] will be really talkative and nice to you, and the other one will be really quiet and will just give you a smile and it’s really sweet,” Galloway said. “It’s work, of course, you have to take care of a horse. But you get a lot out of it [the program].”

Despite the work, Auriana said the purpose of the organization is to help the riders as much as possible. Helping them make progress in therapy and realize their accomplishments is a major part of the program, and it lets the riders leave feeling proud and inspired, according to Auriana.

“We have a parade at the end,” Auriana said. “It’s a huge celebration for all the kids who rode and they get to decorate the horse they rode. They go around the arena and we acknowledge them.”

Photos by Meghan Dincler.