Equestrian, Brigitte, Shares Her Passion
March’s Community Service Spotlight is on equestrian Brigitte. A, an 11th grade, 5-year TASIS England student, originally from Scarsdale, New York.
Brigitte began riding as a child and, for the last five and a half years,
has shared her passion by volunteering with Quest Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA). This UK charity is dedicated to improving the lives of thousands of people through education, therapy, and fun. They specifically help disabled people build confidence physically, emotionally, and socially through horseback riding.
What inspired you to volunteer for Quest Riding for the Disabled Association?
Brigitte: I have been riding since I was five years old, and working with horses has always been something I love. I also really enjoy working with children, because they clearly have a great time and it’s amazing to see them progressing. In the winter of seventh grade, I began volunteering with Quest to become more involved in the equestrian world and to enable me to give the positivity I get from riding and being around horses to other people.
What do you love most about volunteering with Quest? In contrast, what is the most challenging aspect?
Brigitte: All of the people at Quest are amazing. The other volunteers are tremendously friendly and willing. Everyone truly enjoys spending time with the horses, children, leaders, and other volunteers, which makes working there a very social experience. Many of the kids are extremely chatty and friendly and love riding, but I would say the biggest challenge is working with the children who really don’t want to be there. Some refuse to put a helmet on, refuse to go anywhere near the horse, or—once they are in the saddle—ignore the conversation and instruction, and repeatedly ask when they can get off. Although it may seem frustrating at first, with a positive approach and lots of patience, the volunteers and instructors help the kids gain confidence, both on the ground around horses and in the saddle, and help them have the best time they can. It has taken over two years for some children, but it is so rewarding to see them now thriving and happy in a place where they were once frustrated. We hope that attitude extends beyond the riding arena.
What resonates with you the most? What new perspective, if any, have you gleaned while volunteering?
Brigitte: Working with Quest, I’ve learned the importance of teamwork and the value that is placed on every single member of the group. As the organisation is almost completely volunteer based, we appreciate every helping hand that we can get. Everyone always plays an important part. I also think that disabled people are generally stigmatized in society. People are afraid of being seen as prejudiced if they treat a disabled person differently, or insensitive or unaccommodating if they don’t. RDA’s motto is “It’s what you can do that counts.” I believe the charity as a whole embodies this by acknowledging that, while there are people who are less physically or mentally able, that doesn’t make them of any less value or intelligence as humans. Instead of creating a boundary, the differences between able-bodied volunteers and disabled riders are embraced. Sport empowers the riders as well, giving them the capacity to control, to a safe extent, their own horses. Social independence and pride in their achievements is almost always apparent.
Do you have any advice for students who are looking for volunteering opportunities?
Brigitte: The best way to find a good charity or organisation to work with is to find something you love, which is how I came across Quest. If you play a sport or are involved in an art, speak to your coaches, teachers, instructors, or peers and I’m sure someone will help you find a way to get more involved. I found Quest through word of mouth, but you can also get creative and look on the internet. It is full of opportunities. Also, once you have found something you like, branch out! I participated in a program very much like Quest over the February break in Argentina, spending time with children from abusive families and helping them ride. Quest helped me become more involved in this issue, and by branching out I could extend the impact.
Is there any way we could support and help your work with Quest?
Brigitte: Donations are always welcome! Quest is a small, local branch of the large RDA national charity, and runs primarily off donations and fundraising. We also host charity rides and shows where volunteers always lend a big helping hand. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact me or search for “Quest RDA” in Google.