University of Vermont AAHS

The Gift of Giving

Elizabeth Greene, Ph.D.

Equine Extension Specialist

Washington State University

Member, AAHS Board of Directors

[reproduced from Caution: Horses, Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1999

Somewhere along the way with changing times, jobs, and family demands, folks seem to have lost the sense of community support and involvement.  Many people never interact with or even know their current neighbors.  Along those same lines, in the WSU college life scenario, many students  "park in Pullman" for their obligatory 4-5 years before moving on to a job or career.  They miss incredible opportunities to learn about and contribute to the local culture.

The WSU Equine Program (often through the Collegiate Horsemen's Association) provides opportunities for students to gain much more than book knowledge and horse experience during their college years.  The Collegiate Horsemen's Association (CHA) typically takes on at least one substantial horse-related community service project annually.  Students provide a helping hand while experiencing camaraderie and becoming involved with the local horse community.  Over the last five years, members have participated in numerous service projects that have helped a variety of members of the Palouse horse community.

This past fall, CHA members got a first-hand view of stewardship, camaraderie, good will, and a connection to the local horse lore all within a few hours on a Saturday.  Fourteen club members traveled to property owned by George Hatley (alias Mr. Appaloosa) in Deary, ID.  Throughout the year, George Hatley allows several local horse groups to utilize this particular wooded property for combined training and other events.  The task on this day was to help George trim trees to decrease fire potential and thin out trees that would compete for nutrients. George showed the students methods of differentiating between the "great" and "good" trees, how to thin them out to preserve the best, and how to prune the trees without causing damage.

Armed with a chainsaw, a few axes, hatchets, and nippers, the group went to work.  At first, George handled the chainsaw and the rest of us hacked, trimmed, clipped, sawed, and dragged limbs to brush piles.  George had trouble keeping up with all of us, so (at my suggestion) he gave me a detailed lesson in safe chainsaw operation before giving me plenty of room to cut.  George and I switched off with the chainsaw for the next few hours, while students stacked branches.   CHA made a good dent in the tree work then invited George to share in grilled burgers, chips, snacks and s'mores.

After lunch, the group had the special treat of receiving a private tour of George's collection of antique tack, buggies and machinery.  George had full attention as he showed off his cavalry saddle and antique tack that included his current riding saddle that dates back to the 1800's.  George's  "Cook Shack" was another attention-grabber, especially the non-tanned cowhide storage sacks and storage nooks and crannies.  There was also an interesting assortment of antique farm equipment and logging/sawing tools.  Finally, we finished the day with an unexpected but appreciated wagon ride from local horseman Rick Fredrickson's draft horse teams.

Not only had club members volunteered labor and time, but they also had developed a kinship with a permanent part of the Palouse horse history and had a great time while doing it.  George Hatley is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to the Appaloosa breed, since he has lived through much of the breed history.  George continuously expressed his gratitude for efforts of the group (Additionally, he shared his opinion, stating that I could probably get a job based on my "excellent" adaptation to chainsaw use).  The students weren't so sure about my new career as a forester, but they beamed with pleasure and satisfaction at how just a little bit of effort by many could make a big difference in someone's life.  Many of them had never been involved with any type of community service, and they felt a great sense of accomplishment and pride.  They had experienced the great feeling that results from doing something unexpected for somebody else, rather than worrying about the traumas (major and minor) in their own life.

The "help somebody else, rather than ourselves" mind frame will remain with these young adults throughout their lives, and these people will enrich whatever community in which they end up residing.  They will also leave Pullman with a feeling of having belonged and contributed to the community.  Although we only tend to hear about Rose Bowls and riots in the headlines, there is a quiet, but strong and active group of students that will leave much more than they "take away" from this college community.  They will also leave with a greater education than just "book learning."

Other service projects the equine program has been involved in include:

In addition, CHA members have contributed to continual clean-up and repair efforts at Hilltop Stables (WSU equine facilities).  CHA also has an ongoing "secret" project that will be revealed at the Annual Animal Sciences Banquet in mid-April to honor some very special alumni and at the same time provide a service to people on the local and possibly national level.

If you or your club (youth or adult) want to strengthen club bonds and to help someone in the community, the guidelines listed below should help to get you started.

Find a need in the community that is of interest to the group
Brainstorm potential service projects (of any size) during regularly scheduled club meetings.  These projects may involve a "friend in need," and may not even be group-related.
 (During the First Annual Appaloosey Benefit Trail Ride (on site in Deary), I had heard George Hatley mention all of the prep work that needed to be done to decrease fire potential on the property).
Appoint/elect a leader
This person checks on details, makes arrangements for tools, equipment, expertise, scheduling, and participation by members.
(Our club president worked with me on details)
Set a potential date and make appropriate contacts
Establish a few tentative dates that allow the maximum participation by club members.  Build a volunteer phone list specifically for this event.
(We chose the only fall date that was not already committed to another club fundraiser-football concessions, and I contacted George Hatley and made sure that:
he wanted or was willing to accept help
would/could be involved
was available for the tentative date)
Finalize details
Remind all volunteers the week prior to the agreed date and finalize equipment and other needs.
(I worked with the club president to organize carpools, meeting places, times, barbecue food, and equipment.  We called all "previous" volunteers to remind them and confirm their attendance the week prior to the date.)
Break into groups and assign specific tasks
This may be dictated by the task at hand.  Be sure to include new members with seasoned veterans of the club for increased interaction.  Variety of tasks (especially unpleasant ones) will prove to be more interesting and "tolerable" in small doses to all members.
(We mixed and matched the groups throughout the work period, to give everyone a chance to try each job and to increase interaction among members.)
Take pictures to record the club outing
These are guaranteed to bring back good memories and stories at later meetings.
Leave everything as clean as or cleaner than you found it
Have fun!
Follow up with club members
Discuss changes that would have improved the situation, potential future projects and feedback from the experience.
(We would bring more tools and additional chainsaw operators if possible.  Everyone agreed that the picnic tied everything up nicely, but we had brought too much food (we had enough to feed an army).

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