Woodland high schooler hooked on horses


One Woodland equestrian team member and 2023 graduate of the district’s alternative school has embraced her time volunteering at a horse therapy clinic as a way to help those with disabilities.

Hope Batchelder, who recently completed her studies at TEAM High School, volunteers at Healing Steps, an occupational therapy clinic in Brush Prairie that offers people with disabilities rehabilitative therapy using horseback riding and horse care.

Batchelder, a member of Woodland’s equestrian team, received encouragement from Elizabeth “Liz” Vallaire, a teacher at TEAM High School, who has a daughter with disabilities, a release from Woodland Public Schools stated. Vallaire discovered Healing Steps and therapist Kelsey Herman after talking with other parents as she tried to find activities tailored for kids with disabilities.

Within two weeks of her daughter starting therapy, “her body improved dramatically just from riding the horse as it helped improve her core muscles and balance,” Vallaire stated in the release.

For most of her life, Batchelder wasn’t able to ride horses, the release stated. That changed when her aunt asked Batchelder’s family to care for a horse a little more than a year ago.

“I love horses, so I signed up for the equestrian team after my aunt let me care for her horse,” Batchelder said. “When (Vallaire) told me about Healing Steps, I knew that the clinic would be the perfect place for me to earn my community service hours.”

Batchelder’s volunteer duties include guiding the horses so patients can concentrate on developing their core muscles, balance, dexterity and mobility while riding.

Though she’s completed her high school studies tied to the requirement for community service hours, Batchelder continues to work at Healing Steps because she enjoys volunteering so much, the release stated.

“I’m intrigued and inspired by Healing Steps as they work with kids with every kind of disability,” she said. 

Batchelder added she plans to find a career that regularly works with horses.

TEAM High School’s alternative model worked well with Batchelder’s participation on the equestrian team given its flexibility, the release stated.

“We travel every spring which would make us miss school if we attended a traditional high school,” Batchelder said. “TEAM is the perfect fit for us because we can create a schedule that accommodates our competitions.”

She initially enrolled in TEAM’s program due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have really bad asthma, so when COVID happened during my freshman year, I absolutely couldn’t risk getting sick,” she explained. “When everyone returned to in-person school, I stuck with TEAM because the experience had worked so well for me throughout the lockdown.”

Though her studies are complete, Batchelder continues to be on Woodland’s equestrian team alongside her volunteering at Healing Steps. She noted the team is in the process of trying to find a new coach.

“Our coach plans to retire this year, so we desperately need to find a new one,” Batchelder said. “I’d encourage anyone who has horses and wants to help teach students who love to ride to reach out to Woodland High School to volunteer — we’d love to have you.”