Volunteer combines love of horses with helping those with disabilities
By Cheyenne Hoffa
If you meet Taylor Blanford at work, you’ll see a typical horse riding center. There’s a tack and feed store, stalls full of horses, and people riding horses with their instructors. But Blanford does more than teach people how to ride. She helps them heal.
“Just seeing people come through the barn doors, no matter what is going on in their life or how hard of a day they might have had, we all come together to help the students learn,” said Blanford, a sophomore natural resources and environmental sciences major from Frankfort, Kentucky.
Blanford volunteers for the Therapeion Therapeutic Riding Center, where she works with adults and children who have disabilities, are victims of violence or abuse, or disabled veterans. The center is about 20 minutes north of Purdue’s West Lafayette campus in Brookston, Indiana. By working with the horses, the clients who come to the center are able to heal and develop life skills.
“When riding a horse, your body moves as if you were walking,” Blanford explained. “That’s why this therapy can be good for quadriplegics. In addition, there are mental skills being learned: physical conditioning and learning the joy of riding a horse.”
Blanford started volunteering at Therapeion because it allows her to combine her love for horses with her sense of community service. Whether she’s working in the tack and feed shop, giving lessons, or mucking stalls, Blanford said she feels better knowing she’s taking care of the animals and the riders.
“Getting your hands dirty and cleaning out stalls is the kind of work that makes you feel accomplished,” Blanford said. “Working with horses in general always makes me feel that way.”
Blanford is no stranger to the saddle. When she came to Purdue from Kentucky, she brought her horse. So, she always knew she would enjoy working with horses — even the less glamorous jobs. But she said she has come to appreciate how the therapy can help others. Blanford described working with two young brothers who were close in age but had very different needs. One of the boys needed help controlling his high energy, while the other needed to gain confidence.
“The high-energy boy had to learn that pulling, kicking, and shouting won’t work with the horses,” Blanford said. “Working with horses teaches you that your emotions won’t change their minds, or anyone’s minds. You just have to sit back and have a laugh at yourself for getting so worked up.”
The therapy involves teaching riders how to go through barrel patterns, shoot basketballs, or steer a horse. But Blanford said she believes she is just assisting — the individuals really make their own experiences.
“Dealing with a 1,200-pound animal requires a large amount of respect and confidence,” Blanford said. “That these boys with such different needs could be helped in the same session with the same animal just amazes me and gives me more respect for these horses.”
It’s not just volunteering at the riding center that has helped keep Blanford grounded during her time at Purdue. She has one of her best friends close by to make her feel closer to home. Her 16-year-old horse Oyster is another short drive from campus, boarded near Dayton, Indiana.
Sometimes the stress of exams, homework and campus life can make even the most rational people act a little crazy.
“A bad day at the barn is 110 times better than a stressful day on campus,” she said.