At Horse and Buddy, as is the case at many nonprofit organizations, volunteers are critical to our success. For every rider on a horse, we have from 1 to 3 volunteers on the ground making sure our lessons are as safe and effective as possible.
Our volunteers come from all sorts of places – high schools may require hours for graduation, the court system may require hours for a speeding ticket, but the majority of our volunteers come simply because they want to help, sometimes at the recommendation of a friend who is already volunteering with us.
We have volunteers who lead our horses, sidewalk with our riders, assist with our equine assisted learning and Silver Saddles programs, help with administrative tasks, clean troughs, pick our pastures, rebuild fencing, weed eat, and just about anything else you can imagine! There are no words to describe the gratitude we have for these wonderful individuals. There would be no Horse and Buddy without them.
Once a year, we name our “Buddy of the Year.” This is a volunteer who has gone above and beyond, usually in more ways than we can count! We started in 2005 and have named 20 Buddies since then (for those doing the math, a few years had co-buddies!). Of those 20 wonderful individuals, 8 went on to become employees of Horse and Buddy.
I recently asked our past recipients 3 questions, and my intention at the time was to share excerpts of their answers with you. The questions were:
- What brought you to Horse and Buddy?
- What keeps you at Horse and Buddy?
- What is your all-time favorite story from Horse and Buddy?
Our most recent Buddy of the Year, Judi Miller, wrote such a beautiful reply that I am only going to share her story in Part I. I didn’t intend for this to be a 2-part blog, but I need to share her entire response.
“I was a horse-kid, riding, but also loved any literature or conversation related to horses throughout my young life. The way they touch my spirit is hard to describe. As I became an adult, my interactions with horses became more sporadic, but my love for them was steadfast and I always dreamed of getting back to them and owning my own one day.
When I moved from Rochester, NY to North Carolina for a relationship in 2016, I was leaving all my family and friends behind, in addition to a 25-year career as a special education teacher. I was lonely, and became a bit depressed. I knew I needed something to fill my heart, and my time… that’s when I found Horse and Buddy. I was impressed with the passion and dedication of the staff and volunteers I met. I loved my work with children with special needs and I began to witness the impact the horses and staff had on these riders with challenges. When my relationship ended, it was being with my newfound family, the staff, volunteers, riders, and, of course, the HORSES, that pulled me out of my funk and added incredible value and gratitude to my life. They have become my second and, at times my most loving family.
I say often that Horse and Buddy saved me. I am a leader, a worker bee and often work with new volunteers and most rewardingly, new horses on trial. I’m so grateful for the connections I have made and they have led me to explore certification as an Equine Specialist with a team of talented equestrians. We offer sessions in equine assisted learning and mental health development and skill acquisition. I’m also proud to have been a volunteer with the fairly new Silver Saddles program that caters to seniors spending quality time connecting with the horses. All of these experiences are most rewarding and I truly love these new avenues we are exploring.
My most impactful moments are too many to report here, but I have one powerful memory that stands out. It was during an equine assisted learning session for corporate team building. The activity we were facilitating was called “Join up”, an activity that promotes trust, silent communication and making connections. It was our first time trying this particular activity. Tough, a lovely equine partner, was loose, at liberty in the arena. The participants were directed to, one at a time, enter the arena and walk the perimeter in single file, silently, not interacting with the horse, or each other at all. As each entered the arena and began walking, Tough, at first just focused on the people snacks on a table, just outside the ring. It was suggested to the participants that as they passed him, they begin to think about, to mentally project what they wanted him to do, not given any direction as to what that expectation might be. I think it was after the 4th person entered the ring that, all of a sudden, Tough began to follow, joining in with the group, walking along with them, even through obstacles and changing direction. We all looked at each other and relished the moment that Tough allowed to happen. It was powerful and I had goosebumps, close to tears. It demonstrated the uncanny ability and desire that horses have to trust, communicate and connect with humans, given the chance, lessons of which we humans can all benefit.
I can’t say enough about what I experience and witness during every moment I spend at the barn. It has truly changed my life and I will continue serving in any way I can for as long as I can. When I was announced as Buddy of the Year at this past gala, I was surprised and tearfully grateful. Never will I ever be able to repay what Horse and Buddy has given to me, but I will continue to try.”