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Volunteering With Horses: What Helped My Teen? A Horse Of Course!

A couple of years ago, a friend prodded my family to visit the local horse rescue, Save the Horses (STH). As we greeted the nearly 70 horses on the property, we were overcome with thanksgiving for the volunteers that fed, groomed and cared for these gentle giants.

As the mom of seven children, four of whom are teenagers, I am always on the look out for volunteer opportunities that we can participate in as a family. I anticipated that my children would learn how to work hard. I figured they’d be mucking stalls, filling water troughs and feeding the horses. However, I didn’t anticipate that the horses would completely transform our family.

Teens and Horses: Benefit of Volunteering With Horses

As our family worked side by side with the other volunteers, I often shared the story of how our family grew, largely through adoption. One such sun-filled day, Natalie, a young adult who had grown up volunteering at STH, revealed that she was adopted and how the horses had aided her through many emotional struggles in her life. Because my oldest daughter Grace, also adopted, had recently wrestled with some of the same questions, I pondered what Natalie said.

Soon after, Natalie brought a handsome chestnut pony named Flash and asked Grace to befriend the pony. Grace eagerly accepted the challenge. Straightaway, she poured all of her energy into Flash. She even donated her babysitting money to the horse rescue to help with the cost of Flash’s care. Over the next few months, Flash and Grace developed an unbreakable attachment to each other. And, Grace began to change at home; she was more content and more willing to engage in conversations. After witnessing the relationship between Grace and Flash, and noticing the difference in my teenager’s demeanor, I assisted in organizing a program called Barn Buddies at STH. Our first match was between Sam, a volunteer, and Max, a 14-year-old who was adopted from Guatemala at the age of 11. Sam taught Max about the horses, the barn and the people, and their partnership thrived.

The Saturday crew of volunteers would often witness Max and Sam laughing and enjoying the horses. At home, Max’s family recognized a difference in him. Before Barn Buddies, Max never spoke of events that took place during his days at the orphanage. After a few months at the barn, Max began to reveal the abuse and neglect of his past. His parents believe that the horses are helping Max to trust again and, as a result, he is healing.

Recently, I received a Facebook message from a young adult named Michelle. Michelle wrote to say that she too was healing as a result of spending time with horses. The horses accepted her, loved her and trusted her. And because of that, she began to love herself and eventually trust adults again.

When I asked Grace if she would help us with a new program for preschoolers who have trust issues, I was taken aback by her response. She said, “Of course I will, Mom! I found my healing horse, and I want every kid to find theirs.”That brought joyful tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. A horse aided my teen as she wrestled with her issues, and, in turn, she wants to pay it forward.

Sir Winston Churchill says it best. “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”

Kathy H. Lee

Kathy H. Lee is the author of The Homegrown Preschooler and lives with her seven children—biological and adopted—and husband, John, in Canton, Georgia.