Volunteers needed for special equestrian program in Talladega

The Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind needs more volunteers for its growing equestrian program in Talladega.

Students in the Marianna Green Henry Special Equestrians Program take a total of about 3,500 rides on horses each year.

The full time staff need six to 15 volunteers at the MGH Arena at a time to make a class possible.

"At any given time we have to have about 50 volunteers," lead program director Elizabeth Stanley said.{} "Volunteers are what make a program possible."

Dave Vought has a couple of horses of his own, but spends about 25 hours every week volunteering with the 11 horses at the MGH Arena.{} This is his twelfth year as a volunteer.

"If you like kids and aren't afraid of horses, or if you like horses and aren't afraid of kids, it's a good place to come," Vought said.

"There are a lot of benefits other than the physical benefits in riding.{} The program does a lot for the kid's confidence and independence."

He currently serves as a sighted guide for a blind student, Ryan Hughes.{} Hughes is 17 years old and started horseback riding four years ago.{} He won several gold medals in equestrian competitions at the Special Olympics.

"It's pretty challenging," Hughes said about obstacle courses.

"You've got to weave around the barrels.{} One time I had to weave around the barrels and do a figure eight.

Dan Lucy started volunteering 13 years ago after he saw a notice in a church bulleting.{} He hopes some fellow retirees will join him at the MGH Arena.

"We need volunteers every year.{} We really do.{} There's a lot of people out there probably in the same position I was," Lucy said.

"Knew that there were things to do but didn't have enough motivation or reason to even get involved.{} That's the message I've tried to do with my friends is hey, if you've got some time, this is some worthwhile stuff to do."

Volunteers don't have to know sign language to be able to help deaf students.{} People don't even have to know anything about horses.{} The staff offer many kinds of training and many activities and programs for volunteers.

In addition to riding, some AIDB teachers use horses in class to offer different types of learning opportunities.{} There are also physical therapy sessions and activities which involve horses.

"They do it in a highly motivated situation where they really just get to have fun.{} They don't even realize they are working on those physical things," Elizabeth Stanley said.

Volunteers need to be at least 14 years old.{} Stanley said the staff needs volunteers to come at the same time every week to help increase the familiarity with the children, staff, and horses.

Learn more about volunteering at the MGH Special Equestrians Program website.

Download a volunteer form here.