Like many young adults in their mid-twenties, Alicia Shread, 25, from Clarksville, Maryland, is focused on building a prosperous career.

While horses were always a hobby for her, after spending time at Days End Farm Horse Rescue (DEFHR), in Woodbine, Maryland, she decided to take her passion one step further and begin her pursuit of a career with horses.

The 33-year-old equine rescue and rehabilitation organization is unique in that individuals of all ages and levels of horse experience are welcome to participate in various volunteer activities and educational programs. This allowed Shread—who began as a volunteer in August 2021 and was later accepted into DEFHR’s Equine Care and Rehabilitation Internship—a rare opportunity to have a well-rounded and hands-on experience with horses. In addition to preparing Shread for a career with horses, her time at DEFHR brings value to her life in another important way.

“Working with horses is cool and meaningful,” Shread stated. “Having autism, the horses help me in many ways. They give me identity and take social pressures off of me. They help me be myself.”

Volunteers: A Critical Part of the Team

Volunteers at DEFHR are more than welcome—they’re essential. With 70 or more horses at the farm at any given time, it takes a significant team effort to keep everything on track. DEFHR volunteers assist in different capacities and can participate in one of four programs: Equine, Administrative, Outreach, or Education. In total, volunteers provide over 55,000 hours of service each year.

“We accept and welcome all levels but are especially fond of those with less experience because they have the most to gain from their time with us,” said Brittney Vallot, Operations Director at DEFHR. “When everything is new, everything is exciting and eye opening. We love to see that excitement in the faces of those experiencing various aspects of horse care and rehab for the first time.”

For Shread, being hands on with the horses was a must, so she signed up as a volunteer on the Barn Chore and Equine Care Team. From cleaning the stalls, to feeding and watering, to grooming, Shread experienced the daily operations of a large-scale equine facility.

“My favorite thing about volunteering at DEFHR is the sense of community and being around the horses. I have made a lot of friends with horses and people, too,” shared Shread.

While she was volunteering, Shread caught a glimpse of the work being done by interns at the farm and decided to apply to DEFHR’s Equine Care and Rehabilitation Internship, particularly for the opportunity to learn more about equine care and medicine.

Internships: The Next Step Toward an Equine Career

At the start of her internship, Shread learned very quickly that caring for horses, especially as many as DEFHR has, is a challenging endeavor. As an intern, Shread received an insider’s look at the intricacies of rehabilitation for equines that have been subjected to neglect and abuse.

“The most unique thing about this program is that interns get to experience and play a role in the transformation of the horses who come through our gates,” Vallot noted. “It’s a rare opportunity for anyone to participate firsthand in the rehabilitation process of a neglected horse from start to finish.”

Shread recalled a particular group of four horses that she worked with after they were seized from a severe neglect case.

“I saw some entrance exams for horses that came into DEFHR’s rehabilitation program, and the extent of their poor condition surprised me,” said Shread.

Fortunately, these horses are now on their way to a brighter future.

Because it’s especially important for each horse at DEFHR to receive individualized attention and veterinary care, interns in the Equine Care and Rehabilitation Program gain knowledge about medical protocols for varying illnesses, lameness, and injuries. In addition, as part of their large animal rescue training, interns learn about taking vitals and body condition scoring. Ultimately, equine medicine proved to be Shread’s favorite part of the internship.

“We learned how to give vaccinations, learned about deworming protocol, microchipping, equine first aid, caring for wounds, hoof wrapping, leg wrapping, grooming, and other skills from the Day’s End Farm Equine Health Manager, Lynn Garvin,” Shread detailed.

“We got to watch the farrier and vet visits. The equine dentist was my favorite to watch. I thought it was really cool to watch the process and see the dentists at work.”

After the conclusion of her internship, Shread stayed involved with DEFHR volunteering four days per week in the barn.

“Alicia continues to be devoted to and passionate about the work we do here at DEFHR. She works hard every day and always maintains a friendly, positive attitude in every situation. Her motivation to better her skills and increase her knowledge about all things horses is admirable,” Vallot said.

Shread is also honing her riding skills, taking lessons twice per week with DEFHR’s Assistant Trainer, Leigha Schrader. She particularly enjoys riding O’Malley and Isaac, two horses she got to know over the course of her volunteer work and internship. Both horses came to DEFHR as neglect cases but have since become ambassadors for the farm. According to Shread, the riding lessons have helped foster a deeper bond between her and the horses.

“I love them. They are great to ride, good to learn new things with, and they are patient when I learn something new,” said Shread.

In her lessons, Shread is learning groundwork and dressage and she is focused on getting stronger in the saddle. Under Schrader’s guidance, she is aiming to compete at a dressage show in the near future, gaining even more tools and knowledge applicable for a career with horses.

“I want to continue getting more hands-on experience before I take my next steps. My internship at DEFHR has definitely given me more confidence that I can pursue a career in the horse industry,” Shread said.

Shread’s progression with DEFHR puts into action exactly what the organization aims to achieve with every program participant. Vallot concluded, “Our hope is that we will awaken a desire in volunteers and interns to continue to be a voice and an advocate for horses in need across the country and around the world.”

Photocredit: Days End Farm Horse Rescue