YUKON — Volunteering is a moving experience for Glenda Bitner.
It moves her to care and to give. It moves her to action, to tears, to laughter. And it does even more than that.
“It moves us beyond our own selfishness and helps us to understand others,” Bitner said. “We all have wounds and hurts, but we can use these experiences to help others understand, heal, and build bridges of cooperation and understanding.”
Bitner is going on her fifth year as a volunteer at Sunset Therapeutic Riding Center in Yukon.
The program uses horses to provide a form of therapy for people with special needs. Each participant is matched to a specifically trained therapy horse based on the needs of the rider.
Always on the move
And at the program, Bitner is seemingly always on the move.
She is on the feed team. They feed the horses every morning and evening, muck their stalls or paddocks and just “care for them like responsible animal owners would do.”
She is a side walker. The center usually has one walker on each side of the horse to keep the child safe, help with information the instructor gives and serve as the child's cheerleader.
She is a horse handler. The helpers walk the horse on a lead line and that job is staying focused on the horse and its behavior to keep everyone safe. They also listen to the information given by the instructor and follow directions.
And there's more.
“Some of the kids can't sit up and have little to no head control so they need a back rider to hold them while riding,” Bitner said.
Beth Taylor, administrative director for Sunset Therapeutic Riding Center, said Bitner coordinates the adopt-a-horse programs with the Yukon schools, helps with all activities and events and is in training to become a certified instructor.
Bitner said when they started the adopt-a-horse program in the schools, they focused on allowing the students to vote for a horse and then have a fundraiser to support that horse for basic food and care.
This year funds raised are going toward helping their fellow students who participate in the program.
In terms of events, they offer monthly gatherings for the Sunset family that Bitner helps with if things are needed. The center has a large team that puts these events together.
Their students also participate in horse shows. She helps load supplies and groom horses.
And now, through the encouragement of Sunset's Program Director Jennifer Metzger, Bitner is working toward her instructor certification through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International. Bitner said this requires a lot of studying, class time, riding, ground training “and a great mentor” such as Metzger.
Bitner, who has loved horses since she was a child, was invited by Stanley Burris, who hosts Sunset Therapeutic Riding Center at his farm, to work on a project with him. While talking with Burris, she learned more about therapeutic riding.
“This seemed to be a good opportunity to spend time with horses and kids and learn about something new and healing,” she said.
“I have the amazing opportunity to witness miracles every day I'm there. I see the horses give something to these kids that no person can give. For example, the ability to walk, freedom to be normal for a little while, the therapy to move muscles and strengthen the body with exercises that are fun.
“To witness kids say their first word because they want to talk to the horse. These miracles are priceless.”
Bitner considers it an honor to see students from the alternative education program come to them, some insecure, lonely, or shy, then watch them transform into confident, knowledgeable young people who build close friendships.
“I also love working with the horses,” she said. “Our team of staff and volunteers support and encourage each other. We provide healing, acceptance and give hope.”
Glenda and husband, Steve, have a son, Connor.
Her volunteer efforts include serving at her son's school, Shedeck Elementary, as the Helping Hands coordinator. She's also a Stephen Minister at the United Methodist Church of the Good Shepherd in Yukon.
“We are trained to walk through tough times with hurting people for as long as they need us,” Bitner said.
Bitner and her dog Chance are certified as a therapy team, and she has used him in her Stephen Ministry visits.
She gives to others, but believes she is the recipient.
“What I give to the students and volunteers are my gifts of encouragement, optimism, cheerfulness, and compassion, and I also like to hug,” she said. “I receive so much more than I could ever give.”