Jeff Stephenson, P.E., is the Team Leader of [...]
As a life-long horse lover, getting involved with The Red Barn in Leeds almost a year ago, was the perfect opportunity for me to give back to the community. Since I grew up in the city, I never owned my own horse, but working in the stables at the Barn is a great substitute.
The horses are the main attraction, and I also love that the mission of the Barn is to promote and provide equine assisted activities to individuals of all abilities and circumstances, especially children. This includes many opportunities for special needs children, which is close to my heart since my parents adopted three special needs kids who were involved in therapeutic riding in my home state of Indiana.
While I’m not involved directly in therapeutic riding at The Red Barn, I do love volunteering to clean stalls, feed horses, and help out however I can. My day to day job at Sain Associates is not physically strenuous, but working hard in the barn on the weekends feels great. It’s a gorgeous place, and I also love the tranquility and quiet.
Although this is different than my job, working at a civil engineering firm has presented opportunities for me to make suggestions where we can volunteer our expertise as a firm. Each year, The Red Barn hosts our biggest fundraiser in June on the property. With so many people coming to the area, parking has been difficult in the past, so we had one of our engineers map the property and utilize the space for a better parking set-up. Access for handicapped children and those with special needs is also an important consideration we looked at. Our engineer suggested that this year they consider the possibility of using a parking lot close by and shuttling attendees back and forth. Since there have been some changes to the property, we plan to update our recommendations before this year’s big event.
The Red Barn has several programs for children of various ages and abilities that our events fund. The Saddle Up program is available for those with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities, as well as those considered at-risk or having special circumstances. The bilateral, repetitive movement of the horses improves posture, balance, coordination and gross and fine motor skills. Through working with the horses, instructors and volunteers, kids also improve social skills, develop meaningful relationships and learn empathy and compassion.
In another program, Horse Play, those with and without disabilities participate in educational, recreational and therapeutic activities, which can include academic enrichment classes, art and music sessions, horsemanship classes and day camps. Groups from companies can even get in on the action for team building exercises and activities. One of the craziest activities involves painting the horses (they are washed off later, of course). The horses are so gentle and patient with activities like this, and it’s amazing what children and adults can learn from interacting with them in these unique ways.
This year, I hope my involvement with The Red Barn increases, and I look forward to thinking about other ways my day job at a civil engineering firm can overlap and benefit their mission. And working with the horses (my favorite is Forrest) is great practice for the day when I finally have a horse of my own!