How much time does it take to change the life of a young person facing physical, mental or emotional challenges? At Turning Point Ranch Therapeutic Riding Center, the answer is an hour and a half a week.
Stillwater’s only therapeutic riding center seeks 75 to 80 volunteers each semester to partner with “therapists in horseshoes” – their horses – so Special Education students may ride. The ranch is recruiting and training volunteers now for sessions that begin on September 4. Fall is especially exciting since Turning Point participates in the OSU Homecoming Parade as well as Equestrian Special Olympics in November.
Fall Orientation at Turning Point is set for Sunday, August 26 at 4pm at 4100 E. Lakeview Road. Potential volunteers will have the opportunity to watch and practice mounting techniques, helmet fitting, safety holds and horse leading as well as appropriate interactions for various disabilities.
Callie Bennett is the Program Coordinator at Turning Point and serves as the Instructor for many of the therapeutic sessions. “You can imagine with horses and children with disabilities in the arena, it’s VERY important that volunteers are trained in advance. Everyone has a lot more fun when we’re all safe,” she says. Turning Point operates under the standards of PATH, the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship.
Riders at Turning Point range in age from 3 to 30 and are facing disabilities from Down Syndrome to autism and with muscle tone, vision, hearing and joint issues. The horses range from a half Welsh, half Haflinger pony to a 17-hands former race horse. So it’s not surprising that Turning Point volunteers are equally diverse.
“First and foremost, horse experience is NOT required,” says Bennett. “We do need horse people to serve on the feed team and as horse leaders, but we also need caring, creative people to challenge the riders and keep them safe. We even need photographers.”
Many volunteers are OSU students earning academic credit or community service hours for current classes or future professional schools. “We have Vet School applicants and students hoping to get into Physical Therapy programs every year,” says Bennett. “It’s a great way to find out if you REALLY like what you think you do.”
Turning Point accepts volunteers who are age 14 and up so there are also a number of home school students each semester who come to volunteer as part of experiential learning during the school day. Last semester, Emma Rackley volunteered on Monday evenings during her senior year at Stillwater High School.
The center also attracts adults with wide ranging interests. Amy Blalack owns a Massage Therapy business in downtown Stillwater. She finds time in her flexible schedule to volunteer at Turning Point sessions and as a member of the feed team. Stephanie Hindman is a nurse and office manager at Stillwater Family Care. She came to Turning Point several years ago with her son and daughter as a family volunteer project and never left. Volunteers include retirees and young moms looking for a change of pace.
Turning Point’s Board President Dee Miller, became a volunteer nearly 10 years ago after her husband was killed by a drunk driver. She began as a sidewalker and today is involved in nearly every facet of the program from fundraising to scrubbing water tanks to meeting the farrier when hoofs are trimmed.
“The great thing about Turning Point,” says Bennett, “is that for an hour you are completely engaged, getting a little exercise and more often than not, watching miracles happen: Kids who didn’t talk are suddenly telling you something. Someone without great coordination makes a basket. Another is able to remember and say the name of their horse.” Turning Point makes an effort to keep the same riders with the same horse and volunteer team each week so that riders build social skills along with riding skills.
Sessions for the Fall 2012 Semester are Monday evenings at 4, 5, and 6pm and Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10am, 11:30am and 1pm. Volunteers are asked to arrive a half hour in advance to help with arena set up and tacking horses.
If you are interested in joining the Turning Point Volunteer team, contact Callie Bennett at email@example.com or 405-269-2225. Or go to the Turning Point website at www.turningpointriding.org for more information. Potential volunteers are also encouraged to attend Orientation on Sunday, August 23 at 4pm.
Contact: Natalea Watkins