After an extensive coordination process, Meaghan Haugh ’13 will relaunch a therapeutic horseback-riding community service project for Andover students.
Volunteers will go to the Windrush Farm Therapeutic Equitation in Boxford, Mass. once a week for an hour-long lesson working with disabled local children. While some will ride horses with one group of kids, other members of the program will interact more directly by talking and playing games with another group.
According to Haugh, the project will involve eight students and few alternates for the term, because the goal of the project is for the Phillips Academy students to build relationships with the disabled children through several weeks of volunteering.
“There has been a great [student] response so far. We have eight spots to start, but almost 20 people emailed me, wanting to do the project. It would be great if we could make it bigger, but it’s a good number to start with,” said Haugh.
In past years, Andover had a therapeutic riding community service project, but it was discontinued because transportation to the riding centers to the riding centers was not readily available, according to Brad Silnutzer, Director of Community Service.
To prevent this issue from arising in the new project, Haugh coordinated with members of the Community Service Department and the faculty to find adults who could drive students to Boxford each week that the project will meet.
Silnutzer, Christine Marshall-Walker, Instructor in Biology and Suzanne Buckwalter, Instructor in Mathematics, offered to provide transportation to Windrush Farm Therapeutic Equitation.
Haugh brought the therapeutic riding program program back to Andover to allow students to get involved in a cause that she believes is extremely beneficial to disabled children.
She said, “[Therapeutic horseback-riding] really helps the disabled kids physically, since it makes them stronger and more flexible; but psychologically, it is also a big confidence-booster and helps [the kids] become independent.”
“It really helps them and you can really see the progress. It is a rewarding experience. I love it,” Haugh added.
The location and services of Windrush Farms provided a unique, ideal location for the project. Windrush Farm Therapeutic Equitation is close to Andover and certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, an international foundation that runs many therapeutic riding centers.
Silnutzer said, “[The Windrush Farm] is well-regarded within the special-needs community. At the end of the day, I am not personally special-needs. I am not completely embedded within that community. To have the folks in that community who advocate on behalf of that community for a living say that this is a program that is run responsibly and that they feel they make positive changes is important to us.”
“[The project] takes people who really like horses and their passion to figure out how to use that passion to do something for communities other than their own. It teaches the students how they can take something they love and responsibly share it with the world in a way that can make positive changes,” said Silnutzer.
Haugh has been volunteering at a therapeutic riding center near her home in Bedford, N.H., for the past four years.
“I started because I loved the horses, and I kept with it because I loved helping the kids,” added Haugh.
“Initially, I didn’t know how many people we wanted or where we would go; however, the idea was to get Andover students involved with this kind of project, and that hasn’t changed throughout,” said Haugh.
The Community Service Office encourages students who propose projects to address the depth of their project and consider how the project will teach students about engaging within the community and make positive changes.
Silnutzer said, “It’s really easy to make a service project sound good, but what we encourage is for students to step outside of themselves and ask what is best for the community. Things that sound good sometimes haven’t been created or aren’t done in a way that has that community’s best interests in mind.”
“When folks think about community service, they think about certain things like soup kitchen, tutoring kids; they don’t necessarily think about horseback riding. [This project is] getting creative with community service,” continued Silnutzer.