EQUEST Brings Hope and Healing to Children, Veterans

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lady and boy with a horse
Andrew Vladimir Staroverov and his mother, Elena Staraverov with Dottie, the horse Andrew rides. Andrew rode horses as a toddler and it made such a difference in his well-being that his mother jumped at the opportunity to have him back on a horse at Equest. “riding a horse makes your legs and core stronger,” she explained, “and as a child, doctors were surprised that my son got physically strong so quickly after riding a horse.” Andrew hopes to compete in Equestrian events next year.

Christine Volkmer admits she’s not ‘a horse person,’ but found herself disillusioned with her Public Relations profession and looking for a career change. She ended up at the Texas Horse Park. Now she works for Equest and says, “I get to see miracles every day!”

Equest’s mission is to enhance the quality of life for children and adults with diverse needs, both physical and emotional, using horses to bring hope and healing through equine assisted activities and therapies. As a 501 (c) (3) public charity, the program relies on the donations of individuals and corporations, and occasional events.

A client may come with a physical disability and needs to strengthen their core. Riding a horse requires muscles to be used that can help a person’s over-all strength and posture. Volunteers and expert employees at Equest gently help these clients mount a horse and ride it slowly to gain confidence and strengthen their muscles. Children with Cerebral Palsy can improve dramatically after riding a horse a few times.

Horses and Humans

Two ladies standing together
Christine Volkmer, Director of Community Engagement, and co-worker Ellie Grant, Director of Volunteer Services, recruit and organize hundreds of volunteers a year to keep Equest running smoothly. The Equest programs continued during Covid last year since riding horses is an outdoor activity. Photo by JUDY PORTER

Christine has been learning about the Human-to-Horse connection alongside the Equest clients since she began working there five years ago.

Born and raised in San Antonio, she attended Ursuline Academy and participated in her campus Ministry. She also studied dance with the San Francisco Ballet.

At The University of Dallas in Irving she graduated with a Bachelors of English and a certificate of Teaching, then got married soon after graduation. Her first job after college was traditional: “Babies! Raising boys!” Christine had three sons, and admits with a laugh, “I am not a large woman. My children weighed 10 pounds, 11 pounds, and 9 pounds – he was a week early. How I got them out I will never know!”

As they grew, she began working with children in creative drama and art, then teaching preschool, then high school and community college. Eventually Christine got into a public relations career which lasted 15 years.

But about five years ago, social media changed the world of Public Relations. Christine says, “anybody could publish anything, even if it wasn’t true.”

She was ready for a change. Disillusioned with PR work, she admits, “I loved chasing the bigger, meatier stories in national news outlets, and the media began shifting dramatically with the advent of social media. So, I got out.”

She knew about Equest through a friend and was hired to do development – raising funds. “I knew next to nothing about it, except I figured if I had the guts to ask a New York Times reporter to do a story, I could tell a story to a donor and ask them to write a check!”

Christine says, “I found that many of my skill sets and long years of being human gave me the props I needed to do development work – it’s all about relationships and telling the story well.”

But she had a major hurdle. “I knew nothing about horses, so learning about the human-horse connection has been fascinating, and now I get to see the miracles of how horses help people with disabilities every day.”

A big bonus is not just the horses, but the people she works with. Her volunteers, co-workers, and those who come to Equest to get better both physically and spiritually all make her job a joy. Plus, “Just being at the Texas Horse Park – the most beautiful ‘office’ in DFW!”

two ladies standing together
Leslie Andriga is the Barn Manager and Stable Hand, and works alongside Laura Decou, Equine Specialist. Photo by JUDY PORTER

History of Equest

Begun in 1981, Equest celebrated its 40th anniversary this year.

Co-founders Susan Schwartz and Evelyn Zembrod created the program after observing children with cerebral palsy transform from fearful riders to bold and happier children in a few short minutes.

Susan, an equestrian herself, volunteered to help Evelyn at an equestrian club with an annual day of horseback riding for children with cerebral palsy. This day changed their lives forever. It led to the creation of Equest and the tag line: “Humans. Horses. Hope.”

When the children initially arrived in wheelchairs and on crutches they barely spoke to the teachers and volunteers.

But once up on the horses, the children started laughing and having fun. Their tight muscles began to relax, and the joy of the ride was just one of many benefits for them. The movement and warmth of the horses’ bodies had a positive effect on their rigid muscles, and the riders were using core muscles and balance to stay astride. Physically and spiritually the children were getting better.

Volunteers

Riding horses requires lots of help in preparation. And maintaining the safe space for everyone is also a big job. Last week Goldman Sachs brought two dozen employees to volunteer. The group spent hours working all over the park and got a lot done: barns cleaned, fans put up for winter, big holes dug, and two trees planted, lots of branches cleared and fed into the woodchipper.

Individuals and groups of volunteers keep the Horse Park running.

The annual Gala was canceled in 2020 due to Covid. But the 2021 event was held on site this past spring in the huge Horse Barn. “We had 600 people here, maybe because it was outdoors, and everyone just wanted to get out of their homes.”

Christine understands that. “I love to connect people with an outlet for their passion.” As an emotional integration coach, Christine helps people process old patterns and release the emotional energy that keeps them stuck. She is a member of Centers for Spiritual Living, and an ordained Practitioner at the Dallas center.

Emphasis on Education

Education is also important to her, and it led to her meeting Oprah. “Oprah did a story I pitched to her and at the end of her very last season, she said it was her ALL TIME FAVORITE STORY EVER. It was about a woman named Tererai Trent, whose vision for getting her own education in Africa culminated in a PhD. Oprah gave her a million dollars to start a school for girls in Africa!”

Equest also educates everyone who comes to volunteer. Learning how to care for the horses, organize the many items needed to ride a horse, the different saddles, reins, even helmets, is all a part of the experience. And of course, mucking out the stalls, clearing the horse manure from the barns, is a job any volunteer can do.

For more information about volunteering at Equest or to make a donation, see the website: www.equest.org

Or contact Ellie Grant, Director of Volunteer Services at [email protected]
(972) 412-1099, ext. 211

Equest is located at 811 Pemberton Hill Rd 4, Dallas, TX 75217
(972) 412-1099

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