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Marti (left) and a volunteer exchange a smile during a session. 📸 Courtesy

Volunteers are the heart of every non-profit organization, and the Kearney Therapeutic Horseback Riding Program is no exception.

The independent, non-profit organization is dedicated to fostering emotional, physical and social well-being through horseback riding. It is designed to meet the needs of individuals of all ages and disabilities.

The program was founded in 2010 by Carter Siebke. He works in alternative education with Kearney Public Schools and has a degree in special education. Siebke grew up around horses and participated in college rodeo.

“Horses can teach us a lot about life,” he said. “You learn how to control your emotions to get the results you want.”

The eight-week program runs June through August at a private outdoor arena northwest of Kearney. Depending on the individual’s needs and ability, therapeutic riding sessions are held weekly for 30 minutes in either the morning or evening hours. Each session is conducted by a certified instructor along with trained volunteers.

Volunteers are responsible for side-walking and horse leading for the safety and comfort of riders during their sessions.

“For some of our riders, it’s a quality-of-life issue that this program addresses,” Siebke said. “Our wheelchair clients can look at someone at eye level or be above them when on a horse. Think about what a change that is for them compared to their everyday always having to look up to talk to someone.”

Those who choose to volunteer can expect to work in an outside arena once a week during a three-hour block. There are seven horses and up to six clients per block. Each rider needs at least three volunteers during their session: one to lead the horse and two to walk alongside the client for safety. Other volunteers change saddle and tack in between sessions to keep things running smoothly.

Volunteers help Siebke make this program a reality, however, limited availability restricts the program’s ability to take on new clients.

“This program has made an impact on so many lives, and there’s no way I can do it on my own,” he said. “I am thankful for those who support us. The families and workers who support the clients are dedicated, some drive over an hour just for a 30-minute session. There’s not much for these clients to do, and not everyone can swing a bat or roll a bowling ball. This gives clients the freedom and independence they otherwise wouldn’t have.”

“You don’t have to have horse experience to be a volunteer,” added Cheryl Webber, volunteer coordinator. “We have a training program for volunteers before working with the clients and horses.”

The program does require volunteers to be a least 16 years old or accompanied by an adult.

At the end of the season, the clients are invited to participate in a horse show at the Buffalo County Fairgrounds. Events include stock seat equitation, barrels, poles and trail.

“It’s so neat to see the clients during this event,” Siebke said with a smile. “They sit a little taller in the saddle, and their families and caregivers are in the stands with homemade signs cheering them on. It makes me a little teary-eyed thinking about it.”

To inquire about volunteering, please contact Cheryl Webber at cherylwebber76@gmail.com or 308-627-4082.

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