Spring is in the air (and in the puddles)!

Here in upstate New York, that means that Mud Season is here in all its glory.  Our milder than usual winter has brought less snow and more rain over the past few weeks, and it makes for a spectacularly soggy situation at the THS Farm. Our horses are happy, but their shaggy coats and winter blankets are pretty crusty; the pack of THS canine friends are puddle-crazy; and the humans are making the most of their rubber boots and rain gear.  These are the days when a few hours of sunshine feels like liquid gold for the soul!

Set against this backdrop, I’d like to dedicate this installment of Hoofprints to our THS Horse Volunteers.  While we have a truly awesome team on the THS staff, I’d argue that this group is the hardiest, most dedicated, cheerful and inspiring group of humans at our farm.  They show up, they give their time, they endure the cold and wet, and they do it in exchange for the feeling of giving to the animals they love.  The gift of their time and caring is precious beyond measure. #Notallheroeswearcapes

“Bad weather shows you who your true friends are” – unknown

So who are the horse volunteers and what do they do?

As of March 2024, our current team of qualified Horse Volunteers consists of 15 “independents” and 8 individuals “in training”.  Each volunteer has a story, and I haven’t met them all, but I can say generally that they are a beautifully diverse group – men, women, under 30, over 40, some with a lifetime of horse experience and some who had never touched a horse before coming to THS.  They are from all walks of life, but they share one thing – they love our horses.

The quarterback/ coach/ fearless leader of our fantastic “herd” of Horse Volunteers is our colleague, Polly Macomber, THS Volunteer and Marketing Coordinator.  Polly began her journey at THS as a volunteer herself, and over the years has developed the THS training and management system for our Horse Volunteers.  Among the gems I’ve discovered as I’ve opened the lid of the THS treasure chest, this system is among the most sparkly.  It is also not for the faint of heart. It is rigorous, as required, to ensure the safety of our horses and the volunteers themselves.  It is also very well structured to enable individuals who choose this volunteer path to set their own goals in terms of what they feel comfortable doing on the farm and with the horses.   The diagram below captures the process better than I can describe it, take a look!

As the new kid at the farm, I’ve been simply stunned by the impact of our Horse Volunteers on our overall operations at THS. A short list of tasks I see the volunteers do every day includes:

  • Feeding the horses (we feed at 8am and 2pm) 
  • Preparing the feed for the next team
  • Grooming the horses
  • Picking their hooves
  • Cleaning the barn and arena
  • Holding horses for the farrier
  • And so much more!

How does someone join the Horse Volunteer Team?

Like everything I’ve observed at THS to date, the process for “onboarding” volunteers is continually evolving with input and ideas from the whole team. I truly admire how open the THS colleagues are to helping each other do their work better each day.  On this note, the process for joining the Horse Volunteer team is going through a bit of evolution right now (Spring 2024).  With Polly’s guidance and input, we are now welcoming all new volunteers through our new & improved online Volunteer Questionnaire.  Here’s a quick summary of how it works.

  • The first step is to complete our little form which is meant to be quick and easy, and to give the THS team a bit of background on each new member of our herd.  
  • Once we receive a completed questionnaire from a new volunteer, we’ll invite you to join us at an online “Welcome & Information” session. We are hosting our first one on March 11th and we will continue to host these once a month. If you miss this month’s session, a recording will be available until we host the next one (April 15).
  • After attending that introductory session, volunteers will confirm the path they are interested in pursuing: Horse Volunteers or Outreach/ Admin Volunteers (or both!).
    • Horse Volunteers will be connected to Polly to start their training process and to complete our necessary volunteer waivers.  Polly will outline the expectations for all Horse Volunteers (minimum age of 18, time commitment per week, training session timing windows) and she will advise when her next Horse Volunteer Orientation & Assessment session will take place. Going forward, Polly manages and schedules all Horse Volunteer training and also coordinates the schedule for volunteers at the farm.
    • Outreach/ Admin Volunteers will experience a different process as the requirements for this team are significantly less rigorous.  All are welcome, the opportunities are endless, but the journey requires a bit more individual conversation to identify the type of role that best suits the gifts that each volunteer wishes to share. We’ll talk more about these opportunities in a future blog post, I promise!

It all begins with “why”!

In closing this third episode of Hoofprints, I feel inadequate to the task of conveying how inspired I am by the Horse Volunteers I’ve seen at the farm during my first 6 weeks. I think of them every morning as I wake up, grateful for them putting on all their layers, driving to the farm and giving so selflessly of their time and energy to support the horses who bring us all together.  Knowing that my words will fail me in my effort to show you who they are, I thought I’d wrap this post with a few quotes from “the horse’s mouth” (sorry/ not sorry).  Here are a few answers to the question I asked 3 Horse Volunteers this week – 

Why do you volunteer at the THS farm?

“The mission and the values of THS and the opportunity to care for horses drew me to volunteering. The incredible community of staff and volunteers, their knowledge, dedication, conscientiousness and kindness has kept me coming back. And, of course, each and every horse who lives here. Their quirks and personalities, their preferences and needs are such a delight to witness and learn!” – Hilarie, THS Horse Volunteer

“I find it calming to groom a horse and I love it when they groom me back! And I enjoy knowing that these horses are providing calm and comfort for others” – Bet, THS Horse Volunteer

“Horses are one of Earth’s most magnificent creatures, each one an individual with their own personality, quirks and loving dispositions. They are a pleasure to work with, welcoming me with joy each time I walk up to a paddock. I could say that I volunteer to give back, but the truth is that I receive far more than I give.” – Stacy, THS Horse Volunteer

I trust you will join me in being inspired by Hilarie, Bet, Stacy and every one of our volunteers. Together, they are making a positive impact on our community. They are truly helping horses and healing humans!

Be well, be kind and shine brightly!