Volunteers needed to take the reins

By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer

SHREWSBURY — The Reinbow Riding Center, in its 10th year of offering horseback riding lessons to physically and mentally challenged children and adults, needs volunteers.

The nonprofit organization, which is located on Beaver Meadow Farm, needs help to keep operating its therapeutic horseback riding program for children, said Mary Jane Osborne of Mount Holly, program director.

Volunteers don’t necessarily have to get in the ring with the horses and the children, Osborne said last week, as the small riding center started preparing for another year of getting kids and horses together.

Nicole Shea brushes off Jet’s winter coat before doing some riding at the Reinbow Riding Center in Shrewsbury, Wednesday afternoon, May 9, 2018. Shea has volunteered at the center for 8 years.(Robert Layman / Staff Photo)

Mary Jane Osborne, center, walks Jet, a therapy horse as Nicole Shea, top, rides along. (Robert Layman / Staff Photo)

The program has doubled in size in the past two years, said Anna McGee Hanson, executive director.

Reinbow needs help with many aspects of the operation, and held a volunteers’ orientation last Saturday.

Some people enjoy being around kids or horses, or both, Osborne said.

“We have one volunteer who likes to clean,” she said. Volunteers must be at least 14 years old.

Volunteer tasks definitely have a horse theme, from hanging up tack and other equipment and taking care of lead ropes, halters, saddles and blankets, also putting away brushes, hoof picks and grooming materials.

Or scoop horse manure, whack weeds, or even check fences, according to Janet Upton of Ludlow, one of the center’s chief volunteers.

Volunteers can assist instructors by bringing horses from the pastures to the barn and back again, and assist students when they brush and clean their horses and tack. Volunteers can even be a side-walker during lessons.

Dardy Pour, a retired teacher from Rutland City, volunteered for the first time last year and is back again this year.

“From a volunteer’s perspective, they are a joy to work with and are always supportive and welcoming,” Pour said of Osborne and Upton.

“Research has shown that students with autism can benefit from the therapeutic riding by demonstrating improved eye contact, more sustained attention, an increase in social interactions and increased tolerance of sensory input after participating in a series of lessons,” Pour said.

She said the riding center helps children and adults with autism, Down syndrome, social and emotional issues, language and cognitive delays, traumatic brain injuries and other developmental delays.

Not just the volunteers go through orientation. Osborne was working to train Jet, an older horse rented from a local stable for the summer programs. She was making sure Jet is as calm and gentle as possible for the children who will start coming in a matter of weeks. This is Jet’s second year with Reinbow.

Jet, a quarter horse who is nearly 20 years old by Osborne’s estimate, got skittish until Osborne and another volunteer, Nicole Shea of Mount Holly, diagnosed the problem as a stray discharge of electricity from the center’s fences.

After the power was turned off, a couple trips back and forth through the gate allayed Jet’s fears, and he was back to being a mellow fellow.

For more information, consult the center’s webpage at www.reinbowridingcenter.org, or call 236-2483.