Monday, November 5, 2018

Volunteering & Therapeutic Riding

Dear Friends,

Many of you have heard me make references to my volunteering at our local American Legion post here in Glencoe, California. Being a Marine Veteran, I joined the American Legion to enjoy the sense of camaraderie that Vets get from being around other Vets. In the case of our post here, it's also a chance to find a closeness with my neighbors that I haven't seen anywhere else.

I'm the 2nd Vice Commander of our post, Calaveras Post 376. I'm in charge of the post bar, the kitchen, putting on our monthly events, organizing our honor guard, and a few other things. My position is really that of a "Morale Officer." 

I don't remember us having a morale officer when I was in the Marine Corps. In fact, if memory serves me right, the morale of the troops was looked at as being our responsibility. The concept that there was someone there to help a Marine think positive and stay motivated was foreign to the Corps in those days. Again, if I remember right, we were tasked with keeping ourselves motivated and maintain a positive attitude. I don't remember morale being an issue back in the day. And no, I don't know if things have changed.   

While that was the case for the Corps, I did hear that some of the other branches had officers designated for such positions. The mission of a morale officer is to keep the troops motivated and positive thinking. The morale officer is there to keep the spirits up of those in his or her unit. 

In the case of the American Legion, as 2nd Vice Commander, I try keeping up the morale of our members, volunteers, and quests through events that spur camaraderie, fellowship, fun, and good times. Knowing that not everyone gets along, I also try to lessen personal conflicts at our post. That's very true when those conflicts are seen as possibly hampering our post from running smoothly.

By the way, while I'm an officer of our post, technically I'm just a volunteer there. I'm just one of the many volunteers who help make our post function. 

And here's something for you to think about, while our post has 130 members, most of our Vet members don't live here in Glencoe. Some used to live here and still maintain their memberships, but most of our members actually live in the surrounding area. The same goes for our volunteers. Most of our volunteers live outside of Glencoe in neighboring Railroad Flat, West Point, Wilseyville, and Mokelumne Hill. And as a matter of fact, most of our volunteers are not even Veterans. 

Our volunteers volunteer because they are caring folks who know that our American Legion post is the only thing we have here in Glencoe. Yes, other then the Post Office, our post is the hub of our community. It's all we have. Knowing this, our volunteers volunteer at the post to support our Veterans and to keep the heart of our community going.

Our volunteers don't get paid, or receive any sort of compensation for their volunteer hours. They do it from the heart and they need to be recognized for doing so. While I always tell them, most of them will probably never know how much their help is appreciated. 

About now, someone reading this is probably saying, "they're probably retired people looking for something to do." Well, while there are a few of us who are retired, most of our volunteers are younger and have quite a few years to go before retiring. Fact is they just like giving back to our community. And yes, as an officer of our post, I can say without hesitation that we are absolutely blessed to have such friends and neighbors who give from their hearts. They're all a Godsend. 

My first experience with volunteering to help any organization was back in 1976 when I was in the Marine Corps stationed at Camp Pendleton. After I started hanging out at the base stables, it wasn't long before I found myself volunteering to help out around there in whatever way I could on my off days. It wasn't as if I was putting in a tremendous amount of time there because it was only on my off duty days. And also, about the same time that a friend asked me to help coach Little League. Working at the stables and with the Little League kids was actually a lot of fun. And frankly, I think what made it a great experience is that whatever I did at the stables and helping to coach the kids was appreciated. 

After leaving the Marine Corps, my concerns for volunteering took a backseat to holding a job and paying the bills. There are a lot of Americans alive today who have no idea how tough times were back in the 1970s. America at the time was saddled with a pathetic president, double-digit unemployment, double-digit interest rates, and double-digit inflation. From what I can tell, it was truly our last Great Economic Depression. Nothing since has compared to the 1970s.

Jobs were hard to come by and the economy was horrible. So yes, volunteering took a backseat to taking any job that I could find. By the early 1980s, I returned to school with the desire to learn things that I should have in High School. By then, I was working a full-time job and worked part-time for two companies when they needed me. It wasn't easy, but I did it while holding down a full-load class schedule at a local Junior College.

In the mid-1980s, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a therapeutic riding program a few times before my jobs made it impossible to volunteer there on a steady basis. Today, it's gone. Development swallowed it up. But for a while, that dilapidated arena served the purpose as a therapeutic riding program for children needing help. 

The program catered to handicap children. And since the program needed people to help assist with leading the horses, walking alongside the children while they were in the saddle, helping to care for the horses, they needed volunteers. 

Horses are just good for you. As for therapeutic riding, it has been around for years. While there are Veteran equestrian programs, children of all ages, many with all sorts of physical, mental, and even emotional disabilities benefit from therapeutic horseback riding. As for my fellow Veterans suffering from PTSD and physical wounds relating to their time serving in our military, I can only say that you can believe me when I say that being around horses, caring for horses, riding horses, is a therapy that works wonders. 

Fact is, Winston Churchhill was right when he said, "There is nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse."

For individuals with mental and emotional disabilities, the bond formed with a horse can lead to increased confidence, patience, self-esteem, and a sense of well-being. Caring for a horse can lead to a sense of independence. Time in the saddle benefits all who ride. 

For children with disabilities and conditions such as Autism, Brain Injuries,
Cardiovascular Accident/Stroke, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Muscular Dystrophy, Spina Bifida, Spinal Cord Injuries, Post Polio Speech Impairments,
Emotional and/or Learning Disabilities, and other ailments, the therapy of being around horses, of riding horses, can be a morale builder, a motivator, and can be  rewarding beyond measure. 

It's true. The benefits of horseback riding cannot be measured when it comes to helping children with disabilities and conditions that can be disheartening at times. Is that just what I saw take place years ago? No, it's not just my opinion. 

Extensive research shows that children who take part in therapeutic riding programs experience physical, emotional and mental rewards. One source states, "Because horseback riding gently and rhythmically moves the rider’s body in a manner similar to a human gait, riders with physical disabilities often show improvement in flexibility, balance and muscle strength."

Robert T. Kramer, Chief, Department of Pediatrics, Baylor University Medical Center, Children’s Medical Center, Presbyterian Medical Center, Dallas, Texas, stated, "Therapeutic riding transcends traditional therapeutic methods and provides people with the joy of participating in a program that offers social, athletic and personal rewards, while providing benefits as well."

As for those who take part in these programs, sadly, in many cases prospective riders are required to jump through all sort of paperwork hoops before ever participating in such programs. In some states, a prospective rider's family has to get a physician's authorization prior to any therapeutic riding session. In some cases, this is tough to get. Because of that and other roadblocks, it's sad to say that a lot of disabled children don't qualify for such services.

The other problem is that such programs and facilities are limited. In many cases, therapeutic riding programs are limited in numbers because insurance coverage can be too costly. Since I tried looking into starting a therapeutic horseback riding program here on my property almost 17 years ago, I can tell you first hand how insurance made it completely unfeasible for me to do it. 

But also, the cost of paying hourly help may be a factor in stopping a facility from starting. For many therapeutic riding facilities, volunteers are vitally needed to help offset the cost of running such a program. 

So really, your volunteering your time to help out a therapeutic horseback riding program near you could mean whether or not that program survives or not. The lack of volunteers may make the difference as to whether or not such help for a disabled child is non-existent or not. 

Volunteering and therapeutic riding go hand in hand. Besides finding it a rewarding experience that benefits those needing the help, a volunteer also finds that their part in making it possible will be appreciated. It will make a volunteer feel good inside. It will be a feeling of doing good that is beyond their wildest imagination. 

Tom Correa

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