The Free Rein Center began its spring session on Feb. 21 with 92 students. That’s the largest number of clients registered for a session the center has had since COVID-19 began. Excitement was in the air: everyone was looking forward to warmer weather, horses were looking forward to seeing their students, and staff was working hard to get the facility and programs ready, according to a news release.
Of equal excitement was the number of new volunteers who came to Free Rein this spring. Program Director Brittany McCathern indicated 114 volunteers will be working with Free Rein. This spring, 23 new volunteers have gone through program training to become horse aides with students. Nine new people have volunteered for barn chores.
Old and new volunteers will meet a familiar face with a new job description this spring. Megan Johnson has joined Free Rein as horse care coordinator. She earned her A.A.S degree in equine training from Martin Community College. She is a familiar face to those who have been involved in summer camp at Rockbrook where she has been a riding instructor. She looks forward to getting to know the volunteers and helping to provide the students with a therapeutic riding experience.
Programming and clients not only come from the Transylvania County school district but in order to provide for some outside organizations and waitlisted clients Free Rein has made available a four-week session. Two organizations, SkyTerra and Aspire, contracted with Free Rein for availability for their clients during this session. Individuals learn horse facts and participate in horse care. They are assigned “their” horse for the duration of their involvement. This has proved to be a positive approach to learning responsibility, to promote partnership and to provide a self-esteem growing experience. Feedback has been incredibly positive.
Currently, some other organizations have expressed interest in becoming involved in this short-term curriculum. An organization in Buncombe County which is similar to SkyTerra is interested in the four-week session and may join with SkyTerra at the center. Broyhill Children’s Home in Clyde, N.C., is interested in becoming a new client organization in some form, either by having Free Rein go to their facility to train staff or possibly a “day camp” event for their children and staff at Free Rein. Recently, SAFE in Transylvania County began exploring possible volunteer and participant opportunities.
The newest addition to Free Rein is equipment. During inclement weather, Free Rein’s horses are stabled. McCathern began to notice some disturbing issues with some of the horses. She knew that if horses eat all their food too quickly, problems can begin. Horses are forage animals. In the wild, they would typically graze for multiple hours throughout the day to keep food in their digestive tract. If a horse eats its hay too quickly, it leaves hours with an empty digestive tract. This can lead to colitis and ulcers. McCathern reviewed best practices in hay management designs to encourage healthier digestion, to slow down eating and to promote a natural grazing position.
Free Rein’s new hay barrels were the result of taking this design idea and turning for help from three of Free Rein’s most helpful volunteers – Judy and Greg McCathern (her parents) and Austin McCall. Two barrels were designed with a lid that is placed on top of the hay in the barrel. The top has holes so the horse can grab hay but not too much. As the horse eats, the lid lowers on the hay. Two of the horses that were clearly in distress received these barrels, and it worked. Free Rein intends to eventually have a hay barrel for all of its equine partners.