In honor of Father’s Day, we want to introduce you to one of our longtime father-daughter volunteer pairs: Mitch and Leah Martin.
There are many reasons people choose to volunteer at the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program (NVTRP). Some do it because they love working with the riders. Others because they love horses. Some do it for exercise… the fresh air and opportunity to work outside… or the sense of community. But for Monday afternoon volunteers Mitch and Leah Martin, the reasons are much more personal.
The father-daughter duo have been volunteering together at NVTRP since October 2014.
“I love the time that Leah and I spend together. This is our every Monday, come rain or shine, snow or wind or whatever. We’re out here. It’s our dedicated time together each week and I really look forward to it,” said Mitch
When Leah was six months old, she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Having grown up in Clifton, the Martins were always familiar with NVTRP.
“When Leah was three we put her on the waiting list at NVTRP and when she was four they called us in for a ride. At that time, the director took her from my arms and Leah was kicking and screaming as they put her on the horse. Within about 30 seconds she had a big smile on her face and just loved it. Leah (who turned 17 in March) has been riding ever since,” explained Mitch.
“As Leah was about to turn 14, (Executive Director) Kelsey Gallagher had mentioned, ‘Hey why don’t you guys think about volunteering?’ What a great idea,” he thought.
When asked what she enjoys the most about volunteering, Leah explained with a laugh, “I like being around the horses and making sure (dad) doesn’t screw up. Like the time he kept putting the (western) pad on backwards or when he goes into the wrong field to get a horse.”
“We laugh a lot,” added Mitch, who also grew up riding horses.
Leah has her lesson on Monday afternoons as well, which is an added benefit for her dad. “That works out well for me because as I’m volunteering, I can watch her ride,” said Mitch. “Leah is riding independently now, even cantering, and doing quite well. She’s had some really good instructors.”
The extraordinary relationship displayed by Mitch and Leah during their time at the farm is apparent to those around them as well.
“One of my favorite things about Leah and Mitch volunteering on Leah’s riding day is getting to observe the excitement in Leah as she overcomes challenges and learns new things, and seeing the pride and joy in Mitch with everything Leah does,” said Nicole Bass, Leah’s instructor. “ After Leah’s lesson, they work as a team to complete all the barn chores and the bond between them is felt by the entire team.”
With Father’s Day coming up this Sunday, how does the pair plan to spend the day? “My entire family, we’re all coming here to ride,” said Leah.
A special day for a special family to continue to share their love of horses and each other.