Back Bay Therapeutic Riding Club: How Helping Others Helped Me

BY TOBI BENEDICT

My first day at the Back Bay Therapeutic Riding Club, I fell in love. I was already horse crazy, so to find a place where I could help others through horses was exciting for me. I had been riding at a private hunter jumper facility for seven years, so I already had horse experience, but volunteering with special needs people and rescued animals was totally new and out of my comfort zone. At the time, I had no idea how this small non-profit would help me grow as person and rider. A few years later I’m honored to be their 2017 Junior Volunteer of the Year, their Monday barn leader and to be leasing one of their therapy horses, Boomer.

I volunteered on and off for a little over a year taking care of the horses and different animals, and I immediately became attached to their sweet and unique personalities. More recently, I was introduced to the therapeutic horseback riding lessons which I now help out with regularly. I have gotten to know most of the students really well and every day I look forward to working with them.

Tobi and lease horse, Boomer. Photo Credit Cadence Cockerell

This is such a special organization, and I’m always amazed by the little miracles that happen here every day. I’ve witnessed students walking independently for the first time or simply sitting up taller because of their riding lessons. Thanks to the help of people from BBTRC, my riding career has also evolved from mainly hunters and equitation to dressage and jumpers. The founder of the program offered me many opportunities to try these new disciplines and I ended up loving them.

Whenever I walk into the barn, I’m greeted by happy faces and everyone is ready to have a successful day of lessons. During lessons I sometimes lead the horses, but I also sidewalk next to the riders which gives me a chance to get to know the student I am working with. Each rider has different abilities and personalities, and I love to figure out who they are as a person beyond their special needs.

I have worked with kids as young as five years old to teenagers just like me and each one of them is special. At the beginning, I hadn’t had much experience being around people with mental or physical restrictions but after being part of their riding lessons I now know they are just like us. Being around people who don’t have the same mental or physical abilities as me really puts any problems I’m having into perspective and makes me appreciate myself and what I have.

Therapeutic riding demonstration at the 2017 open house. Photo Credit Primo Belfiore

To also see how the students connect with the horses is so heartwarming especially because I get to see how gentle the horses are with their riders. The same horses who love galloping on trail also have a very calm and caring side when it comes to the therapeutic lessons. Every time I see the horses in the lessons I’m reminded why I love them so much and why horses are so special.

From the moment I arrived the program director, Alice Krezymon, immediately made me feel at home and showed me how everything worked. She’s one of the nicest people I know and treats all animals with the same kindness. Now I have the privilege of sharing Boomer with her. Alice joined BBTRC to “share what [she] likes most; facilitate the experience of horseback riding for children and the magic of the horses on their spirit, mind and bodies,” and she is doing an amazing job with all her students.

Another very important woman I’ve met through this organization is the founder of the program, Bernadette Olsen. She is such a happy person, always giving hugs and smiling and always supporting her program. Bernadette said she started BBTRC because when she was a teenager she boarded her horse at a facility with a therapeutic horseback riding program and “[she] was so fascinated by the whole horse therapy that [her] dream was always to open up [her] own therapeutic riding center, with Back Bay Therapeutic Riding Club [she] made that dream come true”. She dedicates a huge part of her life to making the program successful and I’m grateful to have met her through BBTRC.

Founder of BBTRC, Bernadette Olsen and Tobi at an IEL show. Photo Credit Trevor Benedict

Bernadette is also a talented dressage rider and got me interested in trying it myself. With her help and her horses, I competed in dressage and found out how much I enjoyed it. She gives me many opportunities to ride and work with all her therapy horses which I believe has made me an even better equestrian.

My time at the Back Bay Therapeutic Riding Club has already exposed me to great people and opportunities; based on my experience I would definitely recommend getting involved in a non-profit to learn more than you could anywhere else. Even though I was at a wonderful barn before, I feel I’ve found my place in the equestrian world with both my riding and helping those in need because of BBTRC. They are improving people’s lives everyday through therapeutic riding and have saved countless horses and animals and will always continue to. I have learned so much and helping here has made me a better person so I hope to be part of their team for many more years.

Dream in Black (Durk) and Tobi competing in dressage. Photo Credit Cadence Cockerell

As an equestrian I am grateful to be able to use my skills for the greater good and I urge any horsey person out there to find out for themselves how they can use their equine knowledge to expand their horizons. I came to the Back Bay Therapeutic Riding Club expecting to make a difference in a few animals and children’s lives but they ended up making an even bigger impact on me and I now couldn’t imagine life without them.

If you want to learn more about our program check out our website www.backbaytrc.org where you can find out how to volunteer or donate. We also have our annual fundraiser coming up on May 19th 2018 where you can “Rock For Our Riders” while helping raise money for our organization. Join us for great music, food and a silent and live auction, hope to see everyone there! Thank you BBTRC for everything you do for me and the community.