By Avra Sullivan
Don Avery learned to ride as a boy growing up in Syracuse, New York. Since then his love of horses and his belief in their healing attributes has endured. An avid supporter of therapeutic riding, Don has volunteered at facilities in a variety of ways from mucking stalls to serving on two boards of directors. In 2012 Don became involved with the Talisman Therapeutic Riding Program based out of the Talisman Farm in Grasonville.
At Talisman, Don wears a variety of hats. He assists in lessons by leading the horses or as a side walker and performs general horse care around the farm. He works with riders from age four through adults who suffer from an array of physical and developmental disabilities including cerebral palsy, Downs Syndrome, stroke and muscular diseases.
Out of the saddle, Don is part of the leadership team for Talisman’s Equine Assisted Learning programs. These programs are experiential exercises done on the ground, helping riders develop a one-on-one relationship with their horses. Don also helps train new volunteers in basic horse care, horse behavior and working with the special needs of the riders at Talisman.
Don says the impact he has seen during his time at Talisman is amazing. He has witnessed non-verbal children speak their first word when telling a horse to “whoa” and individuals who were almost completely immobile gain a level of independence astride a horse. “We have seen the blossoming of personality and emotion where there had been only dullness before. The horse is an amazing therapy partner that is nonjudgmental, nurturing, protective and honest.”
Don adds, “Personally, I delight in the achievements of those I work with. My sense of well being increases as a teen realizes there is hope, when a senior becomes aware they are still of value, or when another volunteer has an “ah-ha” moment. I delight too when one of my horse friends draws out the hidden secret a client has been suffering with.” Don is a retired naval officer and Viet Nam era veteran. He enjoys sailing, playing the piano and organ and has two children and four grandchildren.
Talisman Farm is a non-profit organization offering therapeutic programs for children and adults with disabilities as well as teens directed by community organizations or the courts. With needs for up to four individuals per lesson and for help with farm care, maintenance and horse care, there is a volunteer opportunity for anyone. Talisman Farm will train all new volunteers. Learn more by visiting their website at www.talismantherapeuticriding.org or by calling 410-239-9400.