From Endurance to Dressage
I am really excited about this next find your joy project!
Here in Bakersfield, we are lucky to have some unique and specialized programs. M.A.R.E., Mastering Abilities Riding Equines is just one of them. "M.A.R.E. is a 501(c)3 that provides equine-assisted therapies and activities for children, adults & veterans living with special needs and disabilities. [...] M.A.R.E. is currently a member center in good standing with PATH Int’l (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship). M.A.R.E. adheres to PATH Int’l therapeutic riding center accreditation safety standards and proudly employs PATH Int’l certified therapeutic riding instructors."* M.A.R.E. was founded in 1990 and continues to grow and expand.
I am not sure when I first learned about M.A.R.E., but it was probably in the late 1990s. Even back then I was excited about the program and wanted to find a way to volunteer. Unfortunately, I was always too busy with work and riding my own horses. In Late November, I was at a neighborhood pop-up event, one of those events that feature local artisans selling their wares from small pop-up tents. As I was browsing one such tent, the vendor remarked on my travel mug. It features the evolution of a Neanderthal to a dressage rider and bears the logo, "born to ride." I asked if she were a rider herself, and she replied that she is the executive director of M.A.R.E.
You know horse people. Before too long we were finding friends in common. Eventually, I admitted that I have wanted to be a volunteer for a very long time. Once she heard that I am not only experienced with horses but an elementary school teacher as well, she urged me to volunteer assuring me that they had need of my particular scombination of skills. I thought about it for a week or two and decided that it was time for me to think less about me and more about helping others. There is no doubt in my mind that I was led by a higher power to visit that pop-up event. The Divine was certainly giving me a shove toward a path intended to help me find my joy.
After several emails back and forth, I was able to give M.A.R.E.'s Volunteer Coordinator a schedule that I thought would work for me. This past Saturday, I met her and another potential volunteer at the M.A.R.E. facility for a training session. In some ways it was what I expected - here is how we care for our horses, here is how we keep everyone safe, and here is what we expect from our volunteers. Most of that part was easy to follow. The safety of humans and horses is a high priority for me already, so the trainer didn't show me anything that I didn't already know about horse handling.
What was new were the specifics of the jobs I was being trained for. Like most equine therapy programs, there is a horse handler and side walkers, people stationed on the ground next to the rider serving as safety restraints and the instructors hands when needed. For our training session, George was tacked up with a western pad and a surcingle with handles, much like what vaulters use. The other volunteer and I took turns as both horse handler and side walker.
The horse handler's job is to control the horse while also ensuring that the two side walkers have enough room against the arena fence and around barrels and other obstacles. I obviously know how to lead a horse, but making sure there is clearance for the horse and the off side side walker took me a minute to adjust to.
The side walker's job is to maintain a grip on the saddle or surcingle while putting sufficient pressure against the rider's thigh to provide support and stability. This was hard. We didn't have a rider, but even so, keeping steady pressure against the saddle paddle while walking alongside a horse who isn't moving on a steady track meant coordinating my own feet and arms so that I didn't let loose of my "rider," get stepped on, or trip over my own feet.
Each volunteer is given a name tag with a set of icons below the volunteer's name. When we returned our name tags at the end of the training, we were told that the icons would be colored in indicating our level of clearance - which jobs we were eligible to perform. Before arriving for the training, I was highly confident that I could easily do any job that the center had. I am an experienced horse owner and a teacher of children; how much more qualified could I be? I didn't fully comprehend that the training was also a type of job interview. the coordinator was judging our fitness for each job.
As I drove away, I worried that all of my questions might have left a bad impression. I made it clear that I am happy to do any job including sweeping, cleaning stalls, or disinfecting tack, but the truth is that I really want to work with the kids. Both horse handler and side walker require experience with horses, so I am pretty sure that's the job I will be given.
Today will be my first day as a volunteer. I will be volunteering every Wednesday from 3:30 - 6:00. A massive covered arena has just been installed at the facility, but there is still work to be done. A perimeter fence has to be built, and the footing needs to be leveled and worked. For the first few weeks, I will be assisting with barn lessons. This is to be an opportunity for the volunteers to get to know the kids as they are working on grooming and other activities around the barn.
I am both excited and nervous. I am looking forward to this opportunity to serve, but I am also worried that I won't be good enough to truly be of use. I keep reminding myself that God wouldn't have put this opportunity in front of me if He didn't think it was something I needed.
I will be sure to let you know how it goes.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: