Air Force Academy Cadets Zack LaRocque, left, and Evan Place position a new sign for the Therapeutic Riding Institute to mark the locations needed to dig holes. After quality time with shovels, the duo were able to permanently place the institute s sign at the property s entrance. LaRocque, Place and 18 fellow cadets travelled to Spring Valley July 6 to volunteer with the institute, readying its new location to begin operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Van Winkle)

Air Force cadets help ready new equine therapy center

SPRING VALLEY, Ohio – Twenty Air Force Academy cadets hit the farm July 6, helping the Therapeutic Riding Institute prepare its new Spring Valley location for operations.

The cadets were visiting Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as part of a U.S. Air Force Academy immersion program designed to provide cadets with a greater understanding of different Air Force missions and the multitude of career paths available.

Community service is also part of the academy experience, with cadets averaging 30,000 volunteer hours per year. Cadets demonstrated the Air Force core value of “Service Before Self” on July 6 by spending the day working outdoors at the Therapeutic Riding Institute, a volunteer-driven community service nonprofit organization.

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For participants ages 5 and up, the institute’s therapeutic riding programs are a recreational activity that provides opportunities for physical, emotional and cognitive benefit through horseback riding, equine-assisted activities and therapies.

Cadets lent a hand to the center by helping it get its first permanent location ready for business.

“This is huge for us. For the last 46 years, we have operated out of 14 different locations – leased locations,” said Christine Pirot, director of development for the institute. “And it’s just within this last month that we have purchased our very own home.

“This is the first time we’ve ever owned, managed and operated our own facility, and just like anytime you buy a new house – you’ve got to get in there and clean it up and get it situated the way you want it situated,” she continued. “To have the cadets out here helping us by getting the fences and barns ready for the horses, this is a really big deal for us. They even installed our sign. They made things official today for this non-profit.”

The institute moved to its new 23-acre location earlier this year with six horses. The new facility will allow the institute to serve its current students with room for twice as many horses, providing the opportunity for potential expansion.

“It’s definitely a ‘Service Before Self’ type of deal, and we’re putting in some good work that’s going to a good cause,” said Cadet Christian Burgoyne of Cadet Squadron 35. “The institute’s staff told us about their new facility and how working with horses helps people, and it was pretty heartfelt. I feel really good about the work we’re doing, and I’m very happy to sweat a little bit more.”

Sweat is something Burgoyne got to do, trimming weeds along the exterior fences of the 23-acre facility, in the 90-plus degree heat. Other cadets cleared and sometimes excavated their way to the fences, leveled the ground in horse stalls, trimmed shrubbery, loaded and transported gravel, sifted through donated materials and repaired horse stalls and gates.

The cadets even put their academy experience to work, by sifting through tent materials to set up a tent. During basic training at the academy, cadets must march 5 miles and set up a tent city, then live and operate out of that tent city for more than a week.

This time, they did’t have to sleep under the tents, but made sure the tent was fully functional. Additionally, they left directions for volunteers to repeat the process.

That tent will be used for the institute’s upcoming ribbon-cutting ceremony

“On July 13, we’ve got our official ribbon-cutting and we’ve had volunteers that have been with us for decades and worked a lot of their lives with us,” said Pirot. “To be able to do this ribbon-cutting is something that is truly meaningful to a lot of people in our community.”

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