Volunteering with Stirrups and Smiles gives students a unique, hands-on experience working with kids, horses and allied health professionals,” sophomore Mary Austin said. “It fosters communication, enthusiasm and a willingness to try new things.”
Stirrups and Smiles is an equine therapy program that uses horses to provide occupational, physical and speech therapy to children.
President of the board of directors for Stirrups and Smiles Jennifer Fisher has been involved with Stirrups and Smiles for three years. Fisher’s involvement is two-fold; she is a speech-language pathologist and provides hippotherapy to children with communication disorders.
Hippotherapy uses the movement of horses to engage the sensory, neuromotor and cognitive systems of the patients to achieve functional outcomes. Fisher said she has witnessed the numerous benefits that hippotherapy provides patients.
Stirrups and Smiles, a nonprofit in Searcy, relies heavily on volunteers.
“Many of our volunteers are Harding University students, but that is not a requirement,” Fisher said. “Over the past two years, Harding students have contributed hundreds of volunteer hours.”
One of those Harding volunteers is senior Katy- Margaret Doss. Doss became involved with Stirrups and Smiles through Harding University’s Student Speech and Hearing Association (HUSSHA) and has been volunteering for three semesters. Doss said Stirrups and Smiles is an important and beneficial program for children who are in need of therapy.
“(Stirrups and Smiles) allows the children to experience therapy in a whole new setting,” Doss said. “This change of pace may be more beneficial for them than a traditional therapy setting.”
Doss said she always tries to go to the same session and volunteer with the same children, so she can see the progress they have made.
“It has been really neat to see kids at the end of the semester and all of the skills they have improved on,” Doss said.
Austin said Stirrups and Smiles welcomes anyone who wants to volunteers, regardless of major. So, there is a lot to be learned, even if volunteers are not in any field of allied health. She said the therapists are always willing to answer questions.
“Our volunteers, therapists, kids and horses are always working together as a team, so the barn is a very encouraging and collaborative environment.” Austin said. “We don’t just learn about horses. We learn life lessons that we take with us when we leave the barn. I think that kind of valuable experience can benefit anyone in any major.”
Stirrups and Smiles welcomes volunteers ages 13 and up. To find out more information, contact Mary Austin at firstname.lastname@example.org or like the Facebook page HU Stirrups and Smiles.