#TBT: 5 Ways to Give Back With Horses This Spring

Want to spend time with horses and give something back to the community? Check out these five opportunities.

Spring is here: the time of fresh beginnings (and fresh horses — grab that mane!) As the days lengthen and the weather grows warmer, there are more and more opportunities to go riding — but there are also more opportunities to give back, both to horse community that’s nurtured us and to the greater community that allows us to be horse-addicted in the modern world. Here are five ways you can give something back this spring:

Be a trail sweep.

Don’t worry, this does not mean that you have to truck out to the trails with a wheelbarrow and a pitchfork and clean up after yourself. Many competitive or recreational organized trail runs and hikes seek “trail sweepers” to ride the course either in entirety or in segments to make sure the trails are clear. In the event that a runner or hiker is injured or cannot continue, the sweeps radio back to event organizers to coordinate pickup or first aid.

One of the most organized groups of trail sweeps is the Sweep Riders of the Sierra, who are responsible for clearing the trail for two endurance runs as well as the prestigious Tevis Cup equine endurance race (including some of the most intense sections.) Most local runs or hikes are not quite this formalized, so ask around to see if your services are needed or connect with a local trail riding club who may be involved. Sweeping a trail is usually a nice opportunity to ride some trails you might not normally have access to, while providing a great service to event organizers.

Hikers were excited to meet the trail sweep horses at Alfred University's annual fall trail event.

Hikers were excited to meet the trail sweep horses at Alfred University’s annual fall trail event. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Work at a horse show.

Horse shows are a massive undertaking to plan, organize and produce, and the lifeblood of horse shows are the volunteers. Especially at the local level, volunteers may be responsible for everything from handing out ribbons and running jump crew to organizing entries and scribing for the judge. Even major shows (like, say, the Rolex three-day event) require big numbers of volunteers to make the day run smoothly.

The benefits of volunteering at shows include getting to watch the show from a new perspective, learning through observation, meeting lots of new equestrians with whom to network, and potentially even getting to work with the judge. Horse show volunteers are worth their weight in gold to keep long days running smoothly.

Volunteers assisting the judge in a hack class. Five Furlongs/Flickr/CC

Volunteers assisting the judge in a hack class. Flickr/Five Furlongs/CC

Ride park patrol.

Our public parks, ranging from the local city level all the way to the national level, rely on volunteer mounted patrols to check trails, provide information and act as ambassadors to visitors. While some formal mounted units are trained officers, many of the parks seek volunteer horsemen and horsewomen to build their patrol services. Not every park operates with this system, so your best bet is to search on a park-by-park basis and look for individual requirements.

A quick Google search brought up opportunities in New York City parks for mounted auxiliary, the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area (with links to more potential opportunities in California) and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Look around at various levels near you to find opportunities to provide a service while enjoying the trails!

Mounted Volunteer Patrol (or "MVP") in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. National Park Service/Flickr/CC

Mounted Volunteer Patrol (or “MVP”) in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Flickr/National Park Service/CC

Join a mounted search-and-rescue team.

Horses can cover ground more quickly than a person on foot, and especially in rough terrain can travel much faster and further. The time and energy saved can make a huge difference when looking for a lost or injured person, making the mounted search and rescue unit a critical part of many operations. Most of these units are comprised of volunteers with their own horses. Mounted units have been categorized at this website by country and state, though not every unit is listed — ask around locally to see if such a unit exists near you.

Horses can be very useful when searching for a person in the woods, and many units follow the “look where the horse looks” guideline to help locate missing or injured people. While basic mounted units allow riders to track from the saddle after some training, programs do exist to actually train horses to use their sense to locate people (much like a search dog.)

Mounted search and rescue volunteers starting a search. Southeast Pennsylvania Search and Rescue/Wikimedia Commons

Mounted search and rescue volunteers starting a search. Southeast Pennsylvania Search and Rescue/Wikimedia Commons

Volunteer at a local horse rescue, therapeutic center, etc.

Don’t have a horse of your own? Consider donating your time to an equine rescue or a therapeutic riding center, which are always looking for volunteers to help. Volunteer duties can range from grooming rescue horses and helping with barn chores to assisting students with saddling their horses or side-walking at a therapeutic barn. Many non-profits also run fundraiser drives or special events and need volunteer help for short terms. Need some ideas? Check out Horse Nation’s Friday Standing Ovation column, sponsored by Ovation Riding — just enter #OVATION in the search bar at Horse Nation and you’ll find all of our past columns.

Meg Stewart/Flickr/CC

Flickr/Meg Stewart/CC

Go riding!

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