by Cori Hilsgen
Five new potential volunteers recently attended a training session to work with the Project Adapted Specialized Therapeutic Riding Involving Disabled Equestrians program at Avon Hills Paints and Quarter Horses, owned by Rick and Marlys Backes.
Project ASTRIDE offers equine-assisted activities for individuals with cognitive and physical disabilities from ages 3-103. ASTRIDE riders must have a cognitive or physical disability and are screened by the program director. Levels of skills vary. The program is a non-profit organization and is organized entirely by volunteers.
The local ASTRIDE program began in 1986. Sartell resident and owner of Tandem Orthotics and Prosthetics Lisa Schnoonmaker said ASTRIDE has been helping disabled individuals in Central Minnesota for almost three decades and people should consider volunteering and becoming a part of this wonderful organization.
“Project ASTRIDE is the perfect way to keep non-profit dollars local,” Schnoonmaker said. “Every dollar donated goes directly to the organization and their efforts. I personally have participated with Project Astride for over 10 years now in several capacities (as a) donor, volunteer and board member.”
Shellie Kremers, who is a current board member, certified instructor and volunteer, began working with the program in 1998. Kremers is a Clear Lake resident and said some riders and volunteers travel more than 60 miles to participate in the program.
Kremers’ husband introduced her to the program when it was located in Luxemburg, at his cousin’s facility.
“I was planning on volunteering the use of my horse, but he was not suitable for the program,” Kremers said. “I, however, was welcomed with open arms into the program. I started as a horse leader and moved into several different areas since then, including the treasurer, secretary, vice president, side walker and also instructor.”
ASTRIDE offers three, eight-week sessions each year for participants. Sessions are held in April, June and August. Currently, private classes for one rider are at 5 p.m.; semi-private classes for two riders or group classes for four riders are at 6 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.
Kremers said currently 11 of their 51 open slots are filled by two St. Joseph and nine Sartell participants. Seven of those participants are in the 3- to 10-year-old age group and four are in the 11- to 20-year-old age group.
Training sessions for volunteers are usually scheduled one or two weeks before the beginning of each eight-week session and are four hours long. Volunteers are required to attend a training session before volunteering with the program.
Volunteers must be 16 years old to work with the horses or 14 years old to perform any non-horse-related services. Different volunteer positions offer opportunities for almost anyone who wants to help. Positions include horse leaders, side walkers who walk next to the riders on the horse and help with ground support, greeters, fundraisers, board members and others.
Volunteers do not need to know anything about horses to volunteer with ASTRIDE. The program is able to find something for anyone who wants to volunteer with the program.
“It’s a great way to get outside, meet new people and leave your worries behind,” Kremers said.
The program currently has four certified instructors, seven horses, approximately 70 volunteers and one volunteer coordinator. Eleven volunteers are from the St. Joseph and Sartell area. Kremers said the program averages 60 participants each year.
Horses used for the program are either donated or purchased. Project ASTRIDE does not look for a specific breed, but rather a specific type. Participants in the program require different sizes and movements of the horse. The program currently has seven horses. Only four horses are used at one time.
The program currently has a Morgan, Hackney, Arab-Haflinger cross, Arabian, two Draft crosses and a Norwegian Fjord. Some horses are wide, others are narrow. Some horses are slow and some are quick. Horses are trained in the off-season to keep them conditioned and comfortable. The program requires a horse that is well-mannered and isn’t easily startled. Horses are usually accepted on a 30-day trial period to see if they will work with the program.
Project ASTRIDE is a premier accredited center with the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International of Colorado. PATH, Int’l is an organization that ensures the programs which are accredited with them follow strict guidelines for safety of the participants, horses and volunteers.
For more information about Project Astride, visit the website astride.org or contact them by mail at P.O. Box 873, St. Joseph, MN 56374.