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John McMillin: Volunteer opportunities for those with horse knowledge

John McMillin • Updated Jun 13, 2017 at 6:00 PM

Do you like horses? Would you be interested in a volunteer opportunity? I’ll share something you might find interesting. Southern STARRS happens to be one of United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland’s partner programs. 

The program is somewhat unique in that they use equine- and animal-assisted activities for special needs students.

Recently, the STARRS board president and development director Saranne Winfield shared she was searching for a specific volunteer. Although they are in need of volunteers on a regular basis, the program specifically needs someone with a knowledge and love of horses that possesses a robust level of physical strength and would be available on a regular basis on Saturday mornings.

Southern STARRS is dedicated to providing safe and goal oriented therapeutic and recreational horseback riding and animal assisted activities to special needs children and adults. Of the many volunteer opportunities, STARRS primarily utilizes volunteers in the following roles:

Leaders are responsible for maintaining control of a horse during riding sessions and following directions of the riding instructor. The leader also assists in saddling and unsaddling assigned horses and grooming.

A side walker assists assigned students to mount and dismount for riding sessions. The side walker also walks beside the horse, hence the title, during sessions to monitor or help support student while he or she is mounted. They also help the rider maintain balance and are instrumental in the student’s safe removal from the horse if an emergency dismount is necessary. As you can imagine, this is an extremely responsible position and the volunteer must be in reasonably good physical condition.

A volunteer might also serve as a ring assistant. This volunteer helps set up games and equipment before or during riding sessions, as well as assisting the riding instructor in conducting exercises or games for students during sessions. The facility also needs volunteers to work with special events, either on site or at the site of another organization. There is always a need for extra volunteers to help with these events. If volunteers have friends or family members that would like to participate in a single event, they do not have to be regular program volunteers and are welcome.

Of course, there are a few other opportunities for volunteers who have an interest in doing the daily mucking of stalls and other ongoing maintenance. For more information, please contact Southern STARRS, Inc. at 615-453-2592 and check out its website at southernstarrs.org. 

Although the focus today is on Southern STARRS, it’s important to remember that UWWUC has more than 30 local programs and agencies that need volunteers on regular basis. Please keep in mind that being a volunteer is important and should not be taken lightly. When you choose to volunteer, obviously there is flexibility because you’re not being paid; nonprofits know this and take it into consideration. Still, volunteers require staff to manage them, special liability insurance, safety meetings, outlays for equipment and sometimes food. It also takes a great deal of time to plan volunteer events. In other words, when you volunteer, do so with the intention of showing up and giving your best. 

That being said, we have some great volunteers in our service area, and we thank everyone for giving back to our communities.

John McMillin is president of United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland. Email him at john@givetouwwc.org.

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