When Chloe Carter was a little girl, she wanted a horse. She actually wanted every excuse to be around horses.
So she signed up at just 9 years old to be a volunteer at New Beginnings Therapeutic Riding, a horseback riding school that serves people with disabilities.
“Whenever I heard about New Beginnings, I came out to volunteer just to be with the horses, but I ended up falling in love with the program,” Carter said.
Nine years later, Carter is the school’s youngest certified therapeutic horseback riding instructor.
The nonprofit works with people ages 5 and older with a range of mental, physical or emotional disabilities, such as autism, cerebral palsy and hearing or sight impairments, so instructors require about two years of specialized training to become certified.
Most volunteers don’t last more than a few years, according to Michele Vise, the executive and program director of New Beginnings Therapeutic Riding.
“You have to have a lot of dedication to become an instructor,” Vise said. “It’s amazing to see someone who has dedicated nine years of their life and what they’ve accomplished.”
In the beginning, Carter cleaned and mucked stalls, groomed horses and started assisting with classes in small ways, like leading horses into the rings, while learning what she could about the people and their unique challenges.
She also took horseback riding lessons: Instructors must be advanced riders to be able to efficiently guide individuals unfamiliar with the process step by step in a way that demonstrates trust.
“After I started forming relationships with the volunteers and getting to know the students, I really just couldn’t get enough of it,” Carter said. “This is the best place to be.”
The experience helped shape her academic and career plans. Carter, now 18, is studying occupational therapy in her freshman year at South Central Kentucky Community and Technical College.
Between Carter’s experience, enthusiasm and compassion, Vise believes the teen has a bright future.
“She could probably run this whole program,” Vise said, even today.
But for now, Carter will pursue her degree while continuing to instruct at the facility. And she’s feeling pretty lucky to do so.
“Every single day I come here, it’s different,” Carter said, whether it’s meeting new people, horses and learning about different disabilities. “The challenging and the most rewarding part of this job is that you constantly have to learn.
“I look forward to every single time I get to come to work.”