Horse Herd Helped by Dedicated Volunteers

November 17, 2020

A purposeful riding session: Eliza Love (left) and Debbie Moore are among the volunteers who helped Chief, Walter, and the rest of the herd, prepare for the return of students.

Similar to our students, our animal partners come to Green Chimneys with histories of their own. In providing enrichment and optimal care, the Farm & Wildlife Center team considers each animal’s history and behaviors, health, strengths, and needs. With this awareness, they are able to individualize care, strategize programming, and ultimately, enhance services for our students.

Such is the case of the Green Chimneys horse herd. Made up of equines as small as miniature horses and as grand as Clydesdales, the overall herd of 21 is as complex in personality as it is in size. With this in mind, the horse barn staff creates schedules for riding, grooming, chores, and specific therapy sessions for students, and essential downtime for the equines.

Meeting the needs of each individual horse

Years ago, the Barn Buddies program launched as an additional way to meet the needs of our equines. Pulling from a group of 20 experienced riders and equine-familiar folks, Equine Program Coordinator Samantha Arevalo pairs volunteers with specific horses based on their skills and strengths. From the vantage point of the horse, training goals are established.

Volunteer Debbie Moore reconnects with Walter prior to their riding session. While Debbie is Director of Nature’s Nursery, our preschool program, she also shares some of her personal time through the Barn Buddies program.

Walter the Quarter Horse is one of our younger horses and requires some special handling and attention. While his calm and quiet demeanor makes him an ideal candidate for working with newer riders, Walter is very sensitive to energy. He needs a soft, loving and confident partner to work with him. Walter displays physical scars on his body leading us to believe trauma is part of his past. To his advantage, Walter still loves human attention so while he excels at fulfilling his jobs, Walter benefits from dedicated riding time with his barn buddy, Debbie Moore. With Debbie’s help, Walter is transforming into a confident horse, capable of handling high or low energy situations from his rider.

After Green Chimneys’ physical closure in mid-March, Samantha began to notice a shift in the herd (read her first-person account here). On a typical day, our horses are handled by more than a dozen staff, volunteers and students. During the peak of our closure, the herd was cared for by a dedicated pair of essential equine caretakers.

“While all of the horses became a little more sensitive and reactive to touch and gestures, eventually I noticed they were all really seeking out human attention for their own benefit,” explains Sam.

Enlisting the help of volunteers

By July, and with safety protocols in place, a portion of the Barn Buddies was welcomed back for a special mission: to help the herd shift from quarantine mode to school mode. During the spring closure, the horses stayed relatively contained at the farm, no longer exploring our beautiful campus while carrying young riders throughout the day. The time had come to prepare for students to return and riding sessions to resume. It was essential that Debbie and the team of Barn Buddies help with the socialization, activity, and retraining of the herd. As such, they rode the horses all over campus, allowing the equines to re-explore their home and remember their role of introducing adventure to our students.

This also meant dear Walter was no longer in his own quarantine, spending his entire day eating grass and taking naps in the paddocks. With Debbie’s return, Walter perked up from the extra attention. His cobwebs were cleared. He was back to his hardworking self, practicing being ridden in the ring and out on the trail.

Back in the swing of in-person school

Soon summer session began, and the first day of riding classes came; Walter was well prepared thanks to Debbie. He was more than ready for the children, high and low energy, riding or groundwork…and he seemed excited to be reunited with them, too.

Though on-site volunteer opportunities are limited at this time, select options are available to individuals and corporations. Learn more