Hoping to inspire and help people from all walks of life, third-year animal science major Katherine Griffin has started her own nonprofit therapeutic horse riding program in Sacramento called Answered Prayers.
“I started volunteering my freshman year at a barn in Vacaville, so I got to see a lot of different disabilities and how therapeutic horsemanship works with people with disabilities,” Griffin said. “When I was in high school I was going through a really rough time and horses were really therapeutic for me — that’s when I first realized the therapeutic power that they have.”
After getting instructor-certified, Griffin created Answered Prayers and opened her student-run program to people of all ages and ability levels in April 2014. Having worked with therapeutic riding in the past, Griffin designed her program especially to give each rider individual, rather than group-based, lessons in order to help her students progress at their own level.
“I think about it as a dream come true — this is something that changed my life,” Griffin said. “I have a student who made me a little bracelet of all rubber bands and I asked how long it took her to make, and she said, ‘Two days.’ I go there and get so much joy from it that I almost forget I’m important to [my students too].”
Although most of Griffin’s students are physically and emotionally disabled, her program is open to all types of riders. Griffin, who is currently a part-time student, said she would rather lighten her academic load and focus on her career than have to turn away a student.
“It’s to the point where I’m getting a lot of students and depending on what disability, I need a certain amount of volunteers,” Griffin said. “Sometimes I need two side-walkers, and always a leader to walk the horse, because as the instructor I’m supposed to be giving the lesson and focusing on the student rather than focusing on the horse.”
Third-year English and genetics double major Hailey Barab has been volunteering regularly for Griffin since the beginning of this quarter.
“I always knew [Griffin] was passionate about it, but actually being a volunteer I got to see her in action and she is so good with children,” Barab said. “She’s really good at being an instructor too – because you can be kids’ friends, but actually making them do things that will help them and getting them to respect you and listen to you is hard – and she does a really good job at it. It’s not everyday that you find someone who’s so patient and committed.”
Griffin holds lessons on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays while balancing four jobs, schoolwork, and competitive horse riding.
“If there’s something I love and I’m passionate about, I have to do it,” Griffin said. “I don’t want to put [school] on the backburner — I definitely know I’m on the road to graduating, but I found stuff I’m absolutely crazy about, so I can’t not do it, and there’s no way I’d ever give up the program or riding.”
Griffin knows all her volunteers personally, and some, including Barab, have volunteered to come out every weekend.
“I love being around horses and seeing the kids so happy, seeing them progress and learn commands,” Barab said. “I also love getting to see a different part of [Griffin], because she’s my best friend at school. But it’s really inspiring to see her do what she does. It’s weird to see a friend do something that you could see her do for the rest of her life.”
Twelve-year-old Breanna Leonce has been a student of Griffin’s for a long time and hopes to continue riding with the program in the future.
“It’s really fun,” Leonce said. “I like learning tricks.”
Leonce said she encourages other kids to come to Answered Prayers to have a fun time horseback riding with Griffin.
“I get really wrapped up in school and it’s hard to think of the broader picture,” Barab said. “There are always people you can help, and if you can change one person’s day, then that’s awesome. My goal is just to be able to help others, and you don’t have to start that after you graduate, you can do that now.”
Griffin will be continuing Answered Prayers post-graduation, and plans to also expand her program in the hopes of aiding many more students in their horseback riding endeavors.
“Each student comes and looks forward to riding. It’s not just a hobby to them, it’s something life-changing and it’s something that helps them progress,” Griffin said. “The fact that I actually make a difference and that I can make a career out of this — it’s cool I get to do that so young.”
For more information on Griffin’s program, visit answeredprayerstherapeuticriding.com.
Photo courtesy of Answered Prayers