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How a Horse Rescue Center’s Youth Volunteer Program Enriches the Lives of Equines—and Children


If you don’t grow up surrounded by horses, it can be hard to know how to break into the industry or even whether it’s the right fit for you without forking out for expensive lessons.

Perhaps it’s not the riding side that piqued your curiosity anyway.

Days End Farm Horse Rescue (DEFHR) in Woodbine, MD, is reaching out to youth volunteers to bridge the gap and offer a way to experience every aspect of horse care and management through its immersive youth volunteer programs. They are open to children and young people, who are offered the chance to learn and be a valued part of the DEFHR team in a positive and non-judgmental environment.

“Youth education and volunteerism is an integral part of DEFHR’s mission to prevent equine neglect and abuse,” explains DEFHR’s community outreach liaison Nicky Wetzelberger.

“The youth program allows children, teens, and young adults a unique opportunity to get hands-on with rescue horses and involved in their day-to-day care. Regardless of ability, youth are given the chance to learn the ins and outs of equine rescue, become leaders in their community, shadow staff members, learn about different animal welfare-related careers, and see the value of a community coming together as a team to care for horses in need.

“Founders Kathy Schwartz-Howe and Allan Schwartz started DEFHR in 1989 as a volunteer-supported organization fueled by passionate people of all ages. DEFHR has long been a place centered around family and community, where people are welcomed and come to help horses and leave to find the horses helped them too,” adds Wetzelberger.

DEFHR runs a variety of youth programs. The volunteer program for children starts at age five, and older volunteers can help in many different areas including education, horse care, training and outreach.

In addition to youth volunteers, there are many paid programs open to the public, and other education opportunities that children can attend. These include summer camp, homeschool classes, Girl Scout and Boy Scout days or field trips. No experience is necessary. The scope of the youth programs is broad, and runs all the way up to aspiring veterinarians completing internships.


By the very nature of a horse rescue center, every day is different. Volunteers help with everything from feeding and grooming, giving tours to the public, cleaning stalls and water buckets, observing veterinarians at work, and training new volunteers.

With more than 80 horses residing at the facility at any given time, volunteers help ensure each one gets one-on-one time and is thoroughly checked over for any injuries or odd behavior. Volunteers are taught from the start what to look for when they are grooming horses and can alert staff to a scratch, bite, tick, or any behavior that may be concerning.

“Youth volunteers can expect to be welcomed into a judgment-free zone where they will learn about horses, how to care for them, how to read their body language, and observe staff and other professionals at work,” adds Wetzelberger.

“Volunteers play a vital role in DEFHR’s daily operations and help enrich the lives of every horse that calls DEFHR home.”

One of the program’s major benefits is the dozens of aspiring veterinarians who have passed through it throughout the years. DEFHR caters to horses and ponies of all shapes, sizes, breeds and ages, so the learning opportunities are endless.

“DEFHR is an entry point for many aspiring veterinarians that are familiar with small animals but have limited to no experience with large animals,” explains Wetzelberger. “The intern program is really successful, and we’ve had many interns leave the program to pursue a career with large animals after their time working with our rescue horses.”

The program, however, is not just for vets.

Youth volunteers are valued in every area of the organization, so DEFHR provides a wealth of opportunities to get involved in horse care, education, community outreach, or events. The volunteer experience for each individual is different and tailored to dovetail with their interests, goals, and talents. Every day there are new opportunities to learn and grow or inspire someone else to get involved and teach them about rescue horses.

“DEFHR can have the biggest impact in equine welfare by empowering youth to be role models and responsible community members,” Wetzelberger concludes. “Today’s children are the next generation of animal owners and a key part of DEFHR’s mission to prevent equine neglect and abuse.

“Allowing youth volunteers to care for suffering horses teaches invaluable lessons in kindness, compassion, and empathy for all living things. Children can achieve so much when they are placed in a secure environment and the most celebrated thing is who is the kindest.”

Visit to register to volunteer and find out about the different volunteer roles.

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