When we look back on the last year-and-a-half and take inventory of the in-person events lost, it’s natural to look inward: graduation, plays, musicals, sporting events. These were occasions or rituals that brought us so much joy, pride, or amusement. One oft-overlooked aspect of campus life that was pushed to the periphery during the pandemic was community service.

For several years now, Marquette students have spent part of their Fridays volunteering at Reins of Life, a therapeutic horseback riding facility on the outskirts of Michigan City. Its mission is to improve the quality of life for children and adults with disabilities through equine-assisted therapy. 

In a normal year, students will log a combined 500 hours of service to the organization. It’s been so long since we’ve experienced normal, though, that its definition is up for debate. 

A pivot toward whatever is normal began last Friday when three dozen students descended upon the peaceful 46-acre campus at Reins of Life. During the initial visit, volunteers receive training on how to interact with the horses.

“These kids are so eager to go out into the community and learn,” coordinator and theology instructor Amanda Boyd said of her team of students.

With the mandatory drill session under their belt, students will begin making weekly trips to Reins of Life. They’ll spend anywhere from two to two-and-a-half hours on a Friday dressing, grooming, and retrieving the horses while making sure children mount and dismount safely.

While COVID-19 restrictions have still hamstrung us from assisting at Sharing Meadows, Reins of Life represents the school-day opportunity for students to achieve their mandatory 15 hours of community service per semester.

“It’s a great way for students to break out of a rut and lend a helping hand,” Boyd observed.

2019 graduate Kate Zientarski made Reins of Life her second home while at Marquette working with several horses across her four years. Zientarski melded her love for horses and conceptual art in making an indelible mark there.

Numerous other students have completed all service hour requirements - and more - at the local stable. And while our volunteers are of the teenage variety, Boyd points out that community service at Reins of Life knows no age.

“One of the best parts of Reins of Life is that anyone - adults, non-school members - can volunteer based on skill level,” she mentioned.

There may be no better cure for the pandemic blues than taking a day this fall to visit Reins of Life. Enclosed in a forest that will soon yield foliage reminiscent of a Bob Ross canvas, its campus reinforces the power community service can provide and the natural beauty we are so fortunate to experience. Learn more at reinsoflife.org.