By Ben Rodgers
HOBART – Close to 200 people volunteer over the course of a year at Exceptional Equestrians. With two of them recently honored for their efforts.
Rod Leadley received honorable mention for the Lifetime Achievement award presented by the Volunteer Center of Brown County in April.
For the past 14 years Leadley has worked with horses and in turn the people they help.
“I’ve seen some of these kids change over that 14 year period, so I develop a little bit of a relationship with the kids, but I really work with the horses,” Leadley said.
Exceptional Equestrians aims to better the lives of people of all abilities using the healing power of horses. Through this people are able to reach their fullest potential and gain independence along the way.
For example, a child with cerebral palsy uses different muscles when they ride a horse than what the would normally use during the course of their day.
Children will ride a horse with a licensed hippotherapist at their side. Volunteers like Leadley will lead the horse during the rides.
“It’s really good because it gives me contact with kids, which was my career and it gets me back to my roots, so it’s been a perfect opportunity for me,” Leadley said.
The 69-year-old Howard resident is a former physical education teacher and coach for Edison Middle School and Preble High School.
Leadley grew up around horses, so working with them as a volunteer was a natural fit.
But, he said volunteering at Exceptional Equestrians has allowed him to see through disabilities and appreciate what he has in his life.
For him, being recognized as a volunteer is nice, but he said others do much more.
“It’s always amazed me what some people have done in our community and the hours these people have spent is truly remarkable,” Leadley said.
He said he is proud of the staff and the other volunteers at Exceptional Equestrians for what they do on a regular basis.
“I’m humbled when I see what some of these people do, and the time, effort and resources they put in, both monetarily and personal, is remarkable to me,” Leadley said.
The other volunteer honored by the Volunteer Center of Green Bay is Andi Krawczyk, who received honorable mention for the Youth Volunteer award.
“It’s rewarding because I see the kids come in with various different disabilities and they don’t let that stop them,” Krawczyk said. “It’s very rewarding to see a smile on their face.”
The Bay Port junior from Pulaski has horses in her blood. Her father, Steve Krawczyk, was a famous rodeo rider in his day.
“This combines my love of horses and children, so it’s perfect,” she said.
Krawczyk hopes to attend UW-Madison after graduation and eventually become a pediatric oncologist.
“It’s pretty cool to know that what I’m doing is impacting people,” she said. “… It’s impactful to know I’m touching someone else.”
Krawczyk encourages people to go out and find something meaningful and then become a part of it to help others.
“If you don’t have something to do, rather than sit around, you can give back,” she said. “Helping others makes you feel good and helps you realize you can help.”
Nancy Williquette, director of marketing and development for Exceptional Equestrians said the nonprofit wouldn’t be able to do what it does without its volunteers.
It operates year-round, so seeing people come in during the freezing cold or a downpour to get the horses ready inspires her.
Anyone interested in volunteering at Exceptional Equestrians can learn more at exceptionalequestrians.org.
“You can make a difference in someone’s life,” Williquette said. “…You can help somebody reach a milestone they thought they’d never reach.”