The 5 Q's: Horses of Hope's Vallerie Sweeton asks for volunteer assistance

Vallerie Sweeton

Q. What is Horses of Hope?

A. We are a not-for-profit organization. We are nearly 23 years old, and we provide equine-assisted activities and therapies, which are a wide range of adapted activities and therapy for persons of all abilities.

We offer what we call therapeutic riding or adapted horsemanship, and that is teaching persons with disabilities how to ride. It's adapted to whatever their ability or level is for them to achieve as much independence as possible using the barn environment for educational purposes.

We also offer equine-facilitated psychotherapy — working with mental health therapists, but in a barn setting.

Q. Who is served by Horses of Hope?

A. In this area, we have the Baxter Springs, Kansas, location, and we also do some short programs — spring, summer and fall — at Lucky J Arena in Carthage. Between those two locations, we will average 100 participants weekly. We (serve) Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Q. What kind of training or background do Horses of Hope staff have?

A. Horses of Hope is a premier accredited center with PATH (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) International. All of our instructors are PATH-certified therapeutic riding instructors.

Another certification our instructors have is equine specialist in mental health and learning. That is a certification that prepares them to work along with a mental health specialist.

Q. How does the organization use volunteers?

A. Our therapeutic riding program uses volunteer help in many ways.

It might be side-walking with a rider who might need some physical assistance, or it may be they need someone to walk along and help them with activities. And also horse-leaders — many of our clients need someone to be leading and helping them with managing their horse.

Those are the main things we're looking for right now. Those volunteers would also help us with barn maintenance, everything that goes into a daily operation with lots of horses.

Q. How can volunteers get started?

A. On Wednesday, we will have a two-hour training. It goes from 10 a.m. to noon. That will be for new volunteers and will start letting them get hands-on and seeing what those jobs are and finding out where they would fit in our day-to-day program.

The training will be hosted again on Thursday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. for folks who need that in the evening.

The (training) will be in the Baxter Springs barn, 6968 SE 20th St. Even though we're having the training here, folks who are interested and who are closer to the Lucky J location, this would be the training for those folks to get in on, too.

If somebody isn't sure, go ahead and come to a training and see what we're about. You don't have to have any horse experience to be a good volunteer. You can learn that as you go along, but you can really be of help with the people.

In any given week, we have about 20 volunteers that come through, and we certainly could use that many more. We're very busy and growing, and to continue to grow, we'll need some more volunteers.

Vallerie Sweeton is the head riding instructor and therapy service coordinator at the Horses of Hope Riding Center.

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