How to Be a Part of Life-Changing Equestrian Volunteer Work


Have you ever wanted to take a break from horse shows and rigorous lesson programs and give back to the equestrian community?

EAT, or Equine Assisted Therapy, and Adaptive Riding are equestrian based programs that utilize horses in order to help those with special needs, and are a wonderful place to use your horse experience to give back to the community.

There are centers across the United States that need help with everything from lessons, to barn chores, and donations. Take a look below to see all the ways you can get involved and give back.

What Are EAT and Adaptive Riding?

Equine Assisted Therapy uses the horse as a therapeutic tool in physical, occupational, mental health, and speech therapies. In many cases, those that turn to EAT have struggled to find improvement from more traditional therapeutic techniques.

Participants of EAT benefit from the equine gait, helping them to build vital core muscles and improve particular difficulties with speech and motor skills. In EAT, participants are not controlling the horse, only benefiting from their movements with the help from a licensed therapist and volunteers. (We had the opportunity to speak with someone who has firsthand experience with the power of equine therapy!)

Adaptive Riding, on the other hand, is a recreational activity targeted towards those with special needs, who would have difficulty participating in or learning from traditional lesson programs.

In Adaptive, the participant aims to control the horse and learn proper riding skills with the help of a certified instructor and volunteers to keep it constructive and safe. Riders of all levels are found in adaptive riding where they can learn everything from walking and steering to cantering and jumping.

Volunteer, Volunteer, Volunteer

Adaptive Riding and Equine Assisted Therapies are often nonprofit programs and run on tight budgets.

If you’ve spent time around horses, you know that the amount of time and resources it takes to maintain one horse, let alone a stable full, can be mind blowing. Volunteers are vital to allowing nonprofit centers to provide equestrian experiences to those in need, and volunteers with horse experience are worth ten times their weight in gold.

Adaptive Riding and EAT Centers have tons of volunteer positions that you can inquire about. Here’s a guide to the quick terminology when you are looking to be an equestrian volunteer:

  1. Leader: A leader or handler is someone who is in charge of the horse in order to assist the participant in either adaptive riding or therapy. Leaders in EAT are vital as the participant is not controlling the horse, but rather benefitting from the movement. Therefore, as a leader, horse experience is key to providing the best sessions for the client. Leaders in Adaptive Riding are extraordinarily important for the safety of the horse and rider and they help participants to advance in skills at their own pace.. 
  2. Long Liner: Long lining is a practice used in therapy sessions, where a handler is essentially ground driving the horse (like carriage driving without the carriage). It allows for the handler to get the horse to properly use their back, which facilitates movement and increases the therapeutic benefit to the participant. This position is often only given to people with extensive horse experience, and can be hard to fill. If you are experienced in long lining, think about looking into lending your skills to your local center.
  3. Sidewalker: Sidewalkers are used in both adaptive riding and hippotherapy. They help to keep riders safe and secure, and can be so helpful for instructors or therapists during a session. 
  4. Barn Volunteers: If you’ve ever been in a barn or around horses, you know that there is no such thing as barn work being totally and completely done. There are always stalls to clean, water buckets to scrub, tack to condition, etc. An equestrian volunteer willing to help keep on top of the never-ending list of chores will never be overlooked! 

Donate Your Dusty Tack

Nonprofit equestrian programs can benefit from the tack taking up space at the bottom of your trunk! Whether it be a horse rescue or therapeutic horsemanship program, equestrian nonprofits can always use tack that is in good to fair condition.

Many programs will either put the tack in their own tack rooms, or many run a tack sale where all the profits go straight into running the facility and providing care for the horses. Some tack sales have made up to $8,000 in one day solely from donated strap goods, saddles, blankets, and other accessories. Clothing and boots can also be a big hit, especially children’s sizes!

Rehome A Horse

While some centers have the ability to purchase horses and ponies for their programs, many rely on the kindness of others willing to donate. If you have a horse that, for one reason or another, isn’t right for you, they may be right for Adaptive Riding or EAT.

Centers often look for horses that are calm by nature, enjoy being surrounded by people, and are serviceably sound. Serviceably sound refers to equines that may have a blemish in their gait but are not lame or currently injured.

If you, or someone you know, are looking to rehome a horse or pony, reach out to your local Adaptive Riding or EAT center to see if it could possibly be a match!

Find a Place to Help

While the equestrian community can feel small at times, it’s not always obvious where to look to find places to put your horsemanship to good use. If you are looking to volunteer at an EAT (Equine Assisted Therapy) Center, the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH), the American Hippotherapy Association (AHA) and the Equestrian Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) all have current center databases to research your local center:




If you are looking to learn more about Adaptive Riding or EAT, these links are also great sources of information. 


Equine Assisted Therapy and Adaptive Riding are phenomenal assets to the equestrian community. These nonprofit centers rely heavily on volunteers and donations to allow access to equines for many who would not be able to benefit from them in any other environment. 

Volunteers with horse experience who are able and willing to use their knowledge in lessons/therapy sessions or in the barn are vital to both the centers that run these programs, and to the participants that benefit from them.

While volunteering can be a large time commitment, donating tack or rehoming an appropriate horse will also allow you to support a center without you having to wrack your brain to find availability in a busy schedule. No matter the size or category of your contribution, choosing to support EAT and Adaptive Riding will allow you to put your equestrian knowledge and experience to use helping others.

Are you familiar with EAT or adaptive riding? Have you volunteered (benefitted from others’ volunteering)? Let us know in the comments!

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