Madison Fields serves 45 riders in our Therapeutic Riding Program, 5 riders in our Hippotherapy partnership with REINS Therapeutic Services, and over 400 people each year through our Equine Assisted Activities and Learning programs. As you can imagine, volunteers are the backbone of all of our programs, but especially those that involve our equine companions! Volunteers are necessary for our riders and students to engage in activities safely.
The volunteer program at Madison Fields thrives when our staff is able to recruit critical thinkers, innovators, and leaders who return year after year to make a difference in our community. We often engage volunteers for a variety of reasons; some individuals come to Madison Fields to fulfill community service for student service learning requirements, some come out to make new friends in a welcoming environment, others want to gain horse experience, but what ties all of these individuals together is that they all strive to be active members of the community and make a difference in the lives of others.
Today we take the time to highlight two of our most active and reliable volunteers: Sophia Kozauer and Shawnee Ronyak. Both of these dedicated teens clocked in over 150 hours in the Madison Fields barn in 2019.
Sophia Kozauer and her younger sisters, Maya and Sydney have all been riding horses for years. Sophia and her sisters have been volunteering at Madison Fields for three years, helping with everything from cleaning stalls to polishing our lesson equipment, and more recently, helping to exercise certain members of the Madison Fields herd.
Sophia is an eventer and competes in several circuits in the local area with her competition horse, Luna. She is well-versed in the ins and outs of horse-care. When Sophia turned 14, she was eager to begin using her horsemanship skills in Therapeutic Riding lessons during our STAAR Summer Program. She quickly evolved into a volunteer leader, teaching new volunteers about horse behavior and how to work through tasks in the barn.
Beyond teaching others, Sophia has developed meaningful relationships with other volunteers. Of her experience over the last three years, Sophia said, “My favorite things about volunteering at Madison Fields are all the friends and memories I make every day. The Madison Fields volunteers and staff are like my family and there are so many friends I’ve made that will last a lifetime. The horses are definitely a bonus too!”
Our volunteers are taught to be adaptable and to think on their feet! It’s the nature of Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies that things don’t always go as planned. Sophia said she has learned so much over the three years she has volunteered with Madison Fields, and added, “one thing that sticks out to me the most is that it’s okay to have bad days. Not everyday is going to be perfect, and that’s alright! You just have to keep your chin up and try again tomorrow, because there is no use worrying about things that you can’t change.”
Shawnee Ronyak began volunteering with Madison Fields during the Spring Session in 2019. Shawnee is hard working, she decided she would dedicate herself to volunteer work that amounted to the number of hours she would be working in a full-time job. That kind of dedication is not only hard to come by, but it’s also wildly commendable for a high schooler during the summertime.
Shawnee, like Sophia, came to Madison Fields with some horse experience. She grew up riding western, enjoying trail rides and working on a farm as a young girl. When Shawnee moved to Maryland, she didn’t continue riding, but picked all of the skills back up quickly and became another volunteer leader, helping to teach other volunteers the ropes of the barn.
One thing that makes Shawnee so very awesome is that she’s not afraid to ask questions. So many of the skills Shawnee has picked up here at Madison Fields have been developed because she is attentive, asks questions, and takes initiative to learn and teach others every time she comes out!
Shawnee says that the biggest things she has gained from her experience volunteering at Madison Fields are the friends she’s made along the way! After STAAR Summer Program she said, “The friends I have made at Madison Fields are the best friends I can ask for. Finding a lasting friendship is hard to come by, but never at Madison Fields because we are always there for each other.”
Of all the thing’s Shawnee has learned from connecting with our riders, she said the most important thing is how to look at the world with a positive attitude. She said, “When I’m in a lesson with a rider, I can always hear them laugh or look back and see them smiling. The lessons these riders have taught me have opened my eyes to so many things and I’m thankful for that.”
The mission of Madison Fields is in essence, to recognize the strength in a diverse, inclusive community. That means our staff, volunteers, and clients work together to teach one another and help one another to live up to our greatest potential. It becomes evident quickly that when we all work together, we become better versions of ourselves.
Shawnee and Sophia exemplify this every time they walk into the barn. It’s volunteers like that these who help us to create an inclusive environment in the barn, the community, and the world at large! We’re thankful for all of our dedicated volunteers who understand that we all grow best when we’re growing together!