The work is sometimes cold, often muddy, and most always rewarding - even with no pay. Even with this in mind, the North Fraser Therapeutic Riding Association (NFTRA) could use more volunteers.
Each week NFTRA provides therapeutic horseback riding lessons to 85 disabled riders, with the assistance of 70 helpers.
But with ever-changing schedules and commitments, turnover is unavoidable.
"Volunteers come and go for a number of reasons," NFTRA general manager Gay Conn said, listing school and work commitments, moving to a different area, and longevity of service as just some of the factors why volunteers move on to other things.
The association recently received a big lift to its recruitment/coordination program with the first of four $7,500 instalments of a $30,000 grant from the Ridge Meadows Hospital Foundation.
The grant will help fund the required training needed for volunteers to work with riders and the seven NFTRA horses Conn refers to as "equine therapists."
The association is hoping the funds will help create a sustainable volunteer training program.
Conn said the grant is "huge" in terms of training and recruitment, which are critical towards ensuring the safety of both riders and volunteers.
"Because volunteers are such a huge part of our program, if they're not trained properly, the experience is not good for them, [and] it's also not safe," Conn said.
The association is trying to revamp its volunteer program by exploring every aspect, while keeping volunteers happy so they will stay longer, she added.
Volunteers' duties include:
. Checking to see which rider is coming and which horse will be used;
. Bringing horses from the paddock to barn;
. Grooming horses and checking their feet for rocks;
. Collecting the appropriate tack for each rider, as all riders' needs are different;
. Saddling the horses;
. Bringing the horses into the arena for each rider; and
. Leading the horse during lessons or walking alongside the animal to assist those riders who may have issues with balance.
Conn said that while these are the basic functions performed by volunteers, they "do so much more."
"They offer encouragement, safety, and friendship to our riders. Many riders become attached to a particular volunteer and enjoy themselves more when that person is working with them," Conn said.
"Our volunteers not only volunteer their time to work with our riders, our horses, and our instructors, but they support our fundraising efforts, also."
Volunteers have gone the extra mile for the people they help, in some instances anonymously paying fees for a rider who otherwise could no longer afford to take part in the program.
They have also sponsored an equine stretch clinic to help the horses, and paid for shoes for a favourite horse.
"Our volunteers amaze us on a daily basis and we are so very grateful to them donating so generously of their time and other resources," Conn said.
One of those volunteers was working at the association's barns in north Maple Ridge on a drizzly afternoon last week, tacking horses for riders.
An aspiring rider herself, Christine Driscoll's original motive for joining NFTRA was to feel at ease around horses before climbing on the back of one of them.
"This seemed like a good way to get experience with the horses and be comfortable around the horses," Driscoll said.
Spending so much time with NFTRA horses has helped Driscoll overcome her anxiety around equines.
"I love working with them, I've learned a huge amount, we've got fabulous volunteers, lovely instructors, huge, fabulous premises.," she said.
Driscoll, who volunteers four to five hours a week, hasn't ridden a horse yet, but plans on taking that next big step in the future.
Program coordinator Emily Felgnar said the amount of time it takes to train a volunteer varies.
"They tend to find their jobs that they like the most," Felgnar said. "Some of them really like to work with the horses and tack up and deal with the barn side of things, and some of them really enjoy developing relationships with riders in the arena."
You can sign up as a volunteer online at nftrarides.wordpress.com, or by contacting the association by phone at 604-462-7786, or email: email@example.com.
@ Copyright 2013