Hoofbeats Volunteer of the Year, Marsha Lunsford, said she knew that helping people through horses was something she just had to be part of.
Through her dedication to this calling, Lunsford has since made an incredible impact in Virginia communities. She has assisted with Hoofbeats lessons since last March and has gained her certification as a therapeutic riding instructor. She hopes to open her own therapy center in Highland County next spring.
Tucked away in the mountains, Highland County is a more remote area with few accessible healthcare services, Lunsford said. There are no therapeutic riding centers close by. To volunteer at Hoofbeats, Lunsford had to drive an hour and a half each direction.
“I’m hoping to be able to contribute and work with kids and adults, veterans, and meet them where they are,” she said.
Years ago, when she first heard somebody talking about therapeutic riding, she said, “Oh, that’s perfect.” You can see that horses are therapy for everybody, she explained. Giving that opportunity to people with limited experiences is what we should be doing, she said.
After that, she started a file for therapeutic riding. Every time she found an article or a study or picture, it went into the file. With a career background in the behavioral healthcare field, Lunsford was well equipped to combine her passions for horses and serving people.
Determined to follow this calling, she started the process of instructor certification by volunteering at therapy centers in Northern Virginia.
Then, last October, she met Carol Branscome.
At the Therapeutic Riding Association of Virginia horseshow in Lexington, Lunsford found Carol and told her how much she loved this show and the Hoofbeats riders. “In the back of my mind I was really wishing to work with her,” she said.
Carol recognized a kindred spirit.
Throughout the 2014 riding season, Lunsford has invested her knowledge, experience, and many skills into the Hoofbeats family, assisting with summer session lessons, the VA Special Olympics, and this year’s TRAV show.
On November 14, she was honored with the Hoofbeats Volunteer of the Year Award. Her contributions to the program have been inestimable. But Lunsford said she is thankful for the experience. “That’s really the reward – watching [the riders] enjoy the experience and grow from it,” she said. “I feel so blessed.”
This winter, Lunsford said she will be working on the policies and procedures to obtain official non-profit status to open her therapy center in March.
By Beth Jinae Kennedy