Categories: Educational, Volunteers
Share
PALS Volunteer helping clients brush a miniature horse.

Step into the world of People and Animal Learning Services (PALS) through the eyes of the volunteers who dedicate their time and energy to its mission. Throughout this article, we’ll be delving into the firsthand experiences of several Bloomington volunteers at PALS. Each volunteer brings a unique story and outlook, offering a glimpse into the transformative power of human-horse connection. Follow along with us as we embark on this exploration of equine-assisted services and the remarkable volunteers who make it all possible. 

Meet PALS Volunteer Annie Kyger

PALS Volunteer Emma Smith posing with a horse.

PALS Volunteer Annie is from Shoals, Indiana. She chose to move to Bloomington because of the variety of activities the town offers, while still maintaining a small-town vibe. 

What initially drew you to volunteer with PALS, and how did you hear about the organization? 

“My interest in horses and to learn the benefits of equine therapy. I learned about PALS via an internet search.”

Can you share a memorable experience or moment during your time volunteering at PALS that stands out to you? 

“Watching clients arrive at the lesson a little unsure or nervous, but as they are interacting with the horse during the tacking process or riding the horse they are visibly more confident and happier.”

How do you believe your volunteer work at PALS contributes to the organization’s overall mission? 

“PALS relies on volunteers for various aspects of their business. I am one of many who contribute, ensuring clients are safe and engaged in the lessons. My personal approach is to talk to the client about the horse they’re assigned to, how to connect and interact with the horse and provide positive feedback and encouragement. I also take time to work with the assigned horse prior to a lesson to help the horse connect with me as the leader and to observe any behavior needing to be addressed to maintain safety of the client.”

What do you think sets PALS apart from other nonprofit organizations that offer similar services? 

“Equine therapy itself is unique and I believe benefits many individuals. There are an endless number of things to learn from horses and benefits from the horse-human connection.”

How do you believe PALS benefits not only the individuals directly involved, but also the broader community? 

“Equine therapy has the potential to benefit individuals by increasing confidence, improving problem solving skills, and relieving stress. These can have a positive impact on an individual’s life outside of the barn, and thereby help the larger community.

As a volunteer, what have you learned or gained personally from your experiences at PALS?

“I’ve gained confidence working with various horses and their various personalities. I’ve learned ways to gain the horses’ trust, how to observe behavior as a way of communicating, and how to provide clear cues when asking the horse to perform certain tasks.”

How would you describe the sense of community or camaraderie among volunteers and staff at PALS? 

“When working with other volunteers, it’s a team effort to ensure the client gets the most out of their experience.”

How would you encourage others to get involved with PALS or support its mission? 

“The opportunity to volunteer in this setting is a great way to learn new skills while giving back to the community.”

Meet PALS Volunteer Emma Smith

PALS Volunteer Emma Smith posing with a horse.

Emma is a Bloomington native who has been volunteering at PALS since 2021. 

What initially drew you to volunteer with PALS, and how did you hear about the organization?

“I started riding at PALS recreationally and began volunteering to gain more time interacting with the horses. As I volunteered more with the clients, I came to love working with them and helping them experience the same joy I experience while being around horses.”

Can you share a memorable experience or moment during your time volunteering at PALS that stands out to you?

“While volunteering with PALS, I had the opportunity to work with a young man with autism. He would come into the barn not wanting to interact or talk with people. However, as he began grooming his horse, it felt like a wall between us crumbled. We would begin to talk about his horse, how excited he was to ride, and especially trot. Some days he would come into the barn more willing to interact than others, but without fail, by the end of his lesson, he would be talking about how he and his horse were best friends.”

In your opinion, what makes PALS’ approach to equine-assisted learning unique or effective?

“I believe PALS stands out because of the staff and volunteers’ commitment to creating an environment where clients of all abilities can not only safely learn about and interact with horses, but also have the chance to develop deep, meaningful relationships with the horses.”

How do you believe your volunteer work at PALS contributes to the organization’s overall mission?

“The majority of therapeutic riding lessons cannot happen without the aid of volunteers, so I know I am filling a real need whenever I volunteer. I had the chance to sidewalk for a girl with Cerebral Palsy who was normally wheelchair-bound. Riding helped improve her balance, but she would not be able to get from her wheelchair onto a horse, let alone ride, without having volunteers lift her onto her horse and then ensure she stayed centered in her saddle with her feet in the stirrups.”

What do you think sets PALS apart from other nonprofit organizations that offer similar services?

“PALS provides services that promote growth and learning while utilizing the powerful human-horse connection, a connection that other therapies or activities cannot replicate.”

How do you believe PALS benefits not only the individuals directly involved, but also the broader community?

“The PALS program promotes participants’ growth in independence, which in turn allows them to be more active in their community.”

As a volunteer, what have you learned or gained personally from your experiences at PALS?

“As a volunteer at PALS, I have gained increased respect for the dignity and capability of people of all abilities. The clients I work with inspire me to find joy in my interactions with them and celebrate each of their new accomplishments, knowing that I helped them achieve their goals.”

How would you describe the sense of community or camaraderie among volunteers and staff at PALS?

 “Volunteers at PALS are among some of my closest friends, and I have often seen them go out of their way to help each other. I also appreciate that PALS intentionally holds events specifically for volunteers to come together and socialize, allowing them to build a sense of community.”

How would you encourage others to get involved with PALS or support its mission?

“PALS provides services in our community that no other organization can. Through their partnerships not only with individual families and caregivers, but also with organizations such as Wheeler Mission (internal link) and Indiana Centers for Recovery (possible internal link?), they are providing the incredible opportunity for anyone of any ability, from any background, to discover the benefits and the joy of human-horse connection. As a volunteer, I also benefit from interacting with the horses, but I have the added enjoyment of sharing these benefits with others. Choosing to become a volunteer at PALS was one of the best decisions I have made, and I would highly recommend volunteering at PALS to anyone who is interested in making a difference in the community in a unique way.”

Meet PALS Volunteer Hannah Hixson

PALS Volunteer Hannah Hixson with a miniature horse from the organization.

Hannah is originally from McCordsville, Indiana. After attending college at Indiana State University, she moved to Bloomington with her husband while he attended grad school at IU. Coincidentally, one of her professors lived in the area, and knew of her prior background with horses, recommending PALS to her as a volunteer organization. She’s been volunteering ever since!

What initially drew you to volunteer with PALS, and how did you hear about the organization?

“I had horse experience when I was younger, and then didn’t have time through high school and college, so I was excited to work and interact with horses again. I also love the heart of PALS, and the support and growth we see in the clients we work with makes a unique experience to give back to the community.”

 

Can you share a memorable experience or moment during your time volunteering at PALS that stands out to you?

“I’ve been volunteering for almost 8 years at PALS and it’s always bittersweet when you’ve worked with a client long enough that they advance and no longer need you. You cheer because all of the hard work put in by everyone has made them a stronger, more confident rider, but I miss a lot of the kids I’ve worked with, and it’s always fun to see them even if I’m at the barn and not directly working in their lesson.”

In your opinion, what makes PALS’ approach to equine-assisted learning unique or effective?

“I’ve never been involved with any other equine-assisted learning center, but the human-horse connection has incredible mental, emotional, and physical benefits. Whether you’re the client, the leader, sidewalker, or the instructor, everyone benefits. I love that each lesson is different, but you will see instructors build off the same skills week by week. We play games and make sure that this isn’t just a place to learn, but to have fun as well.”

How do you believe your volunteer work at PALS contributes to the organization’s overall mission?

“I like knowing I’m a consistent part of a client’s week. The more you get to know them, the easier it is to build upon their progress and help them become more comfortable as they build their connection with their horse.”

What do you think sets PALS apart from other nonprofit organizations that offer similar services?

“The hearts of the staff and horses are here to help and serve our clients. We ask a lot of the horses, and they show us how they care for the clients just as much as the clients do for them. You’ll see patience and calm that is needed when clients are having a rough week, and you’ll see instructors push their clients when necessary. We adapt and change as needed to best serve our clients.”

How do you believe PALS benefits not only the individuals directly involved, but also the broader community?

“Organizations like PALS bring the community together by being a foundational piece in showcasing that Bloomington cares. We’re willing to put in the hard work day after day to provide therapeutic services to clients that would potentially never get this opportunity. We build upon community events like our Halloween with the Horses to further that relationship and foster connections.”

As a volunteer, what have you learned or gained personally from your experiences at PALS?

“PALS reminds me of the value of hard work and the joy that comes with giving your time to a cause greater than yourself. The peace I find at the barn is restorative, and a two-way street with the energy I give, also given back to me.”

How would you describe the sense of community or camaraderie among volunteers and staff at PALS?

“I care for them and the horses just like I would close friends and family. I’ve been able to watch people grow and develop over the years, and seen several horses come and go, but you never stop caring. Everyone makes some kind of sacrifice to be at the barn that makes them all so special.”

How would you encourage others to get involved with PALS or support its mission?

“Whether you have horse experience or not, come to a Saturday volunteer training and sign up for a lesson as a sidewalker. Everyone there will help you with any of your questions and once you’re through the training, even supporting a one-hour lesson will go a long way. It’s easier than you think, and you will find the horses help you as much as we’re there to support our clients.”

Closing Thoughts: Embracing the Impact of Equine-Assisted Services at PALS

Through the experiences shared by our dedicated volunteers – Annie, Emma, and Hannah- we’ve gained profound insights into the transformative power of equine-assisted learning at PALS. Annie’s passion for horses and dedication to fostering client confidence exemplify the core mission of PALS. Emma’s commitment to enriching lives through equine interactions highlights the unique approach our organization takes to creating meaningful connections. Hannah’s dedication over the years shows us the lasting impact PALS has had on clients and the broader community. 

As we conclude this article, we invite you to join us in supporting PALS and its invaluable work. Whether it is through volunteering, donations, or simply spreading the word, there are so many ways to get involved.

Want to make a bigger impact? Learn more about donating.

Join our community and get more frequent updates by signing up for our e-newsletter.