Back in the Saddle: Part 2 – Mini Horse Outreach

In my last post, I introduced a new blog series about equine and equine-assisted therapies and explained the significance and relevance of these programs to my writing. The Back in the Saddle Series will continue over the next few weeks with interviews of individuals who serve in a variety of roles in such programs. I learned about Cincinnati Therapeutic Riding and Horsemanship (CTRH) in August of 2020, when the wonderful people at Hospice of Cincinnati’s Blue Ash Inpatient Care Center arranged for the CTRH miniature horses to visit my dad as part of their “Lasting Wish” program.

I began volunteering with CTRH as a sidewalker in April 2021 as a direct result of the experience our family had with the organization that day. Recently I joined the Mini Horse Outreach team on a visit to the Ken Anderson Alliance, and I had the pleasure of meeting Thad Bauer, coordinator of the CTRH Mini Horse Outreach. He has a huge heart for this organization and their mission, and I was excited to invite him to talk more about his involvement with the horses.

Hey, Thad. Welcome! Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. How did you get started in equine therapy?  

I will start with the fact that I have always been an animal lover. I co-founded a business when I was 36 years old.  For ten years, I gave almost all of my time to the business and (luckily) we did quite well, eventually selling the business to a larger company for a very nice payout. Part of the conditions of the sale also made it very equitable for me to stay on with the acquiring company, which I did for another eight years. I gave an intense amount of focus towards my career and my family during this time. At this point, my two daughters had turned into wonderful adults and weren’t around as much, so I realized I had an opportunity to shift my attention and start giving back and doing other things with my life.

I had driven by CTRH for many years, so I made the leap and started volunteering while I was still working.  That consisted of sidewalking, and then horse-leading. I also started working the Saturday morning shift at the barn. It was amazing how fulfilling that was. As I started thinking about retirement, I saw the opportunity to get more involved with the mini horse outreach program. Literally the week after I retired, I did my first mini-horse visit, and I have not looked back since.  

I understand! The time I’ve spent at the barn has been fulfilling for me as well. What is your role with the CTRH Minis Outreach Program? How did you get involved in this capacity? 

I have taken on the coordination of the miniature horse outreach program. This involves reaching out to our customers, planning resources on our side, managing invoicing contacts and timing, and attending the visits. With CTRH being a non-profit, I figured it was better for a volunteer to take over the time-consuming work, allowing our instructors to focus on bigger, better things.

What does a typical outreach visit look like?

From a pure logistics standpoint, we allow about 30 to 45 minutes of horse prep time (grooming and gathering the supplies needed for the trip). We account for drive time, and I allow 10 to 15 minutes early arrival so we can prep the horses once at our location. For indoor visits, the horses need a “poop bag” and grippy socks. Outdoor visits are easier. We basically just have to unload. From an experience standpoint, we can focus on visitation or we can plan activities. For example, our last trip to In Return, we played mini-horse baseball. Basically the attendees ran bases with the minis. Next time we will allow them to groom and walk the horses. This has been an evolution in the program, one I am very happy to see.  

What is your favorite part of the experience? 

Definitely seeing the reaction from those we are visiting. That ranges from utter joy to some hesitation, even to downright resistance. But life is about all experiences, so I love all reactions.

What has been the most rewarding experience/memory since you’ve started volunteering with this organization? 

So many!!! Where to start? Working with the people at CTRH – what a wonderful group of human beings!  We will raise over $10,000 this year for CTRH through the miniature horse outreach program. The feeling of giving back and helping is such a great feeling! But to hone in on one specific memory, while visiting a hospice center, I saw a patient tear up as she was visiting with one of our horses. This caused the hospice employee to also tear up (and maybe me too).

What are the benefits of the mini outreach visits for the participants and/or the participants’ families? 

This depends on the location and group we are visiting. I love seeing those afraid of animals let their guard down and get close to the horses. Seeing participants take a risk and get rewarded seems very beneficial. Having a last wish when folks are at a stage in their life where memories are fleeting, to give them that chance to remember when they worked with animals, lived on a farm, could do more things with their bodies that they maybe can’t do anymore. 

Do you have any tips or tricks you care to share that you’ve found helpful when interacting with individuals who may be uninterested in the horses or scared and nervous around them? 

You can usually spot people that aren’t animal people. I don’t want to make them uncomfortable. However, I do remind them this might be one of the few chances they may have in life to get up close to a miniature horse, but I don’t ever try to push them.

Is there anything else you’d care to share with readers?

Just the message to do something! Before it is too late, give that little extra to someone who needs it.  Commit to something and see to it. I have been voluntarily cleaning the stalls now for over three years. It is hard waking up before 7am every Saturday to give up your free time, but where I hate getting up, I have never hated my effort for the day and what I have accomplished at the end of the shift. My kids love to roll their eyes when I gave them “dadisms” but I have always said life is about the journey, not the destination.  Working with CTRH is an amazing journey!

Life is about the journey, not the destination.

I couldn’t agree more, Thad. Inspiring others to get involved is one of the main reasons I continue to write. Thank you for sharing your experiences with the CTRH Mini Horse Outreach. The program is a blessing to many.

If you are interested in volunteering or supporting this organization in other ways, you can learn more here. As always, thank you for reading.