Monday, August 20, 2012

My Job, or People Are Awesome

I don't blog much about my job, even though it's where I spend the majority of my time and is frequently the reason I don't have a lot of time to spend riding Moe, Gina, and Colter. I don't want to get into one of those messy losing-my-job-because-I-blog-about-it situations. And on a day-to-day basis, my job isn't crazy interesting. But today, I felt compelled to share with you, all twelve of my readers, a little bit more about what I do and why it's totally, totally great.

I work as the equine manager for a therapeutic riding center. I am in charge of the care of our existing herd of therapeutic horses, the evaluation and selection of new horses, the desensitizing process, and otherwise preparing horses for therapeutic riding lessons. The center at which I work has 19 equines (14 horses, 1 mule, 1 pony, 3 miniature horses) and I am their boss.

Brutus, 12 year old Haflinger/Belgian gelding.
Therapeutic horses are a special kind of horse. They can be any breed, but here in Oklahoma, we see a lot of American Quarter Horses because they're popular for rodeos and ranch work. They can come from any background; most of our horses are ex-ropers, but we also have a former reiner, a hunter, and an ex-police horse. Therapy horses can be any age. While older horses are par for the course because they've usually seen everything and been everywhere, our horses range in age from 4 to 30 years old. However, no matter what breed, background, or age, they are all calm, intelligent, and very, very empathetic.

Roscoe, 16 year old ex-police horse, makes a silly face.
Every day, the horses are exposed to a plethora of stimuli that would drive most horses nuts. People with special needs aren't always in control of their bodies, so the horses must cope with riders who pull their manes, pat their necks too hard, yell or cry loudly, bounce on their backs, squeeze their sides, or lay on their necks. They must unfazed by brightly colored rings and poles, balls bouncing off their heads or sides or rolling under their legs, music playing, and squeaky toys. They must tolerate a person leading them and two people walking at their barrel. They must be responsive enough to stop quickly in case of an emergency, but quiet enough to stay calm if something happens.

At age 28, ex-roper Wolfman shows no sign of slowing down.
I have seen horses stand calmly while their rider had a seizure and was dismounted by volunteers. I have seen a horse just keep walking while his rider bounced a ball off his poll. I have seen horses slow to a stop when their rider leaned too far forward and give them time to adjust. I have seen a horse put his head in his rider's lap, just asking for a hug and not noticing her wheelchair.

Twenty-six year old former reiner Eddie gets a good roll.
All of our horses come from loving owners who, in most cases, simply wanted a place for their horse to go where it would be well-cared for and useful. For some owners, the cost of keeping an older horse was becoming prohibitive, but they didn't want to send the horse to a sale and worry about where it would end up. Some owners had a horse who had sustained injuries that made it unsuitable for what they did. Some people wanted to find a home for their older horse that perhaps wouldn't be comfortable actively competing, but would be bored and miserable turned out in a pasture all the time.

Cherokee, a 20 year old Pinto trail horse.
I met with a girl today who wasn't much older than I am. She wanted to visit our facility before making a decision on donating her horse. I'd already visited with her, her father, and the horse at their farm last week. He was a friendly, personable Missouri Foxtrotter gelding who wasn't too tall or too wide and whose smooth gait made him an ideal candidate for our program. All horses are taken in on a 45-day trial to judge their suitability for therapy work. Those who are are either donated to long-term leased to the program; those who are not are returned to their owners. Before this girl made her decision, she wanted to visit with us on our home turf, see our other horses, and get a feel for where her horse would be living. 

Poncho (bay Mustang) & Speck (red roan QH) race in the
pasture. Speck is a former AQHA & NSBA champion.
I proudly showed her our tidy vet/feed room, with its hot water and non-slip flooring. I took her to our barn and showed her our big, airy stalls and assured her the horses got as much turnout as possible- they're only in when the weather is truly terrible, they're injured, or immediately before a lesson they're in. I drove her down to the paddocks, which are currently dry and dusty, but are clean, have two tanks of fresh water each, and all contain a large round bale of good quality grass hay grown right down the road. She met each of our friendly horses, who all came jogging up to the fence, looking for pats and treats. I told her the stories of each horse as she patted their noses. By the end of our tour, she was crying- with happiness, she assured me- because she knew her horse was coming to a good place where he could help people.

Fannie gets a good belly scratch on her round bale.
Here is a woman, no more than 30 years old, who wants to help people by donating her horse. Her horse is a beautiful pinto Missouri Foxtrotter gelding. He is sound, safe, and only 12 years old. She has owned him since he was a gangly two-year old baby. She told me about how he'd been a expert trail horse with the smoothest gait you'd ever ridden and never spooked in his life except once, at a surprise tractor. She could probably sell her horse and get a fair price for him, even in this economy. But instead of thinking about her bottom line or what she could get out of it, she chose to donate him to a place where he can help people who have many, many challenges in their daily lives.

Red, a 30 year old mule, was a champion jumper.
People like her represent the best humanity has to offer. So do the people who volunteer their time at our lessons, camps, and fundraisers. So do the people who donate a halter they're no longer using, or a saddle their children learned to ride in, or an extra $10 they found in the sofa. Every single day, I get to witness people who are absolutely awesome. It never gets old. 

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