AUBURN, Ala. – For most of the two dozen children who visited the Auburn University Equestrian Center on Oct. 26, it was their first time riding a horse.
Guests of the 40-member Auburn Equestrian Team and Auburn’s IHSA Club Equestrian Team, the children are part of Project Uplift, a program that has connected Auburn students with local children for 50 years.
Hannal Lemel, a Project Uplift mentor and western rider on Auburn’s equestrian team, organized the outing.
“It was an easy thing to put the two together,” said Lemel, a graduate student who earned her degree in animal science from Auburn University’s College of Agriculture. “Both are wonderful parts of my week.”
A recent talk about gratitude from former Auburn women’s golf coach Kim Evans further inspired Lemel to organize her teammates to share their love of horses with Project Uplift mentee members.
“We on the team really value the time we spend with the horses,” Lemel said. “We’re so grateful to be able to do this every day and sometimes we forget that other people might not make it.
“Getting to share what we love with the next generation is a privilege for us. Trainer [Greg] Williams is always stressing us to plant a seed for a tree we’ll never shade under, and I think we’re doing that today.”
Horse riding was only part of the activities. A decorated cookie walk, Halloween bingo, tail-snapping, a scavenger hunt, pony painting (“which is always a highlight”) and a grooming station allowed the children to learn how members of the riding team provide daily horse care. they ride.
“It’s good that it fell around Halloween so we had a few trick or treating stations,” she said. “Just a big, fun day for the kids.”
The event was the first of its kind, but judging by the smiles of the children and team members, it probably won’t be the last.
“One of the most rewarding things we see is a child who falls in love with a horse just like we did when we were their age,” Lemel said. “It’s a great progression to watch. Hopefully they will come to our meetings and ride a horse again and again until one day they are in our shoes riding for Auburn riding.”
Lemel encouraged Auburn University students to consider mentoring children through Project Uplift.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to make a huge difference in this community,” she said. “It’s truly the most rewarding of my week. I’ve been a mentor for three years with the same kids. We’ve become best friends and it’s something I wouldn’t trade for the world.”
Jeff Shearer is a senior writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jeff_shearer