At the start of this year, I had an epiphany. “I don’t even know what makes me happy anymore,” I thought to myself. It was a humbling realization.

2023 was a year filled with tons of big life changes. For someone who prides themselves on being “put together,” I was feeling anything but. I decided 2024 would be the year that I refocused on everything that makes me, me, and finding my passions again.

From ages 5-15 I competitively horseback rode at a local farm. I used to love horses and the sport, and honestly just being at the barn. As I grew older in high school I took a step back from riding in favor of school, work, sports, homework, friends, family. Then came college, homework, work, friends, family. Then my “big girl job,” and much of the same responsibilities.

Now, I’m in a beautiful place where I work — but work isn’t my entire life. I volunteer for Valley Eye Radio once a week — but I have so much more time to give.

Years ago I looked into Whispering Horse Therapeutic Riding Center in East Longmeadow — I actually used to pass by their location on my commute to the office — and when I had my epiphany, I remembered that the riding center had volunteers. On a whim I messaged the nonprofit on Facebook and I explained my qualifications, “I’d love to help out and volunteer!” They messaged me back quickly with a welcoming, “Come see our program!” And so I did.

Whispering Horse trained professionals accompanied by volunteers work with individuals with disabilities to achieve their independence through a variety of therapeutic goals. They specialize in hippotherapy, which is a physical, occupational and speech therapy utilizing the natural gait and movement of a horse to provide motor and sensory input to the folks who come to the center.

I haven’t smiled so much in the longest time than the past few Saturdays I’ve spent at the barn. I left on my first official day and my cheeks were actually sore, smile lines in full force. It was so refreshing to be around horse lovers who also enjoy interacting with the clients of all ages who come to the center. I thought I was there for the horses, but really I find myself looking forward to spending time with the clients and seeing them progress and get more and more comfortable with not just the horses, but themselves.

My purpose for sharing this is simple: if you’re feeling stuck in a rut or that you have lost your sense of self … I’d encourage you to think about what makes you happy, and to pursue it without hesitation. Strengthen those cheek muscles and deepen those smile lines.

pnorth@thereminder.com | + posts