Our volunteer of the month is Helga Cunningham!
Deciding on our featured volunteer for this month was a breeze because not only is Helga a core volunteer at Lancers but August is always a month where she works at the barn for an alarming amount of hours!
Lancers has been fortunate to have Helga around for the past 19 years! Helga’s daughter Elizabeth rode at Lancers as a child but then they moved to Scotland. When they returned to Halifax in 1998, Elizabeth found an ad in the newspaper for the Lancers Adult Beginner Course which was run through City rec. Helga was reluctant to join despite always wanting to learn to ride. Elizabeth encouraged her and told her that if she didn’t start riding then, she would never do it! So two weeks before Helga’s 50th birthday, she started the beginner course, accompanied by Elizabeth to keep her company. Lucy Cuthbertson (of the Lucy Cuthbertson Fund) and her brother Richard were their instructors. Even though Elizabeth moved away from Halifax, Helga enrolled in the adult membership program and has been with us ever since. It is without a doubt that Helga’s favourite Lancer horses were first Moonbeam and second, Phyllis. In fact, she says that she can’t ride now because they are no longer with us (in fact, Helga does still come to her lessons, but rides Punkin because “she is low to the ground in case I fall off”.
It is no exaggeration that you can find Helga at the stables almost every day! On a weekly basis, she waters the ring, fixes just about anything, and (as she jokes), acts as our procurement officer – ensuring that we have all the supplies, equipment and materials we need for running the office and stables. When a horse on vacation recently needed some allergy medicine, Helga even drove way past the airport to deliver it and made sure the horse had what it needed. Since 2000, she has also been a dedicated H.A.L.T.R. (therapeutic riding) volunteer. She began by offering carpentry help and is now the treasurer. Every August when the horses go away we are left with the big task of cleaning out the barn top to bottom. This year we are additionally making significant improvements and Helga (and her husband Peter) have once again been instrumental.
When asked how Lancers compares to other volunteer experiences, Helga explained that Lancers is certainly a bigger involvement and all-encompassing rather than just popping in one afternoon. She couldn’t choose just one favourite memory from Lancers because every presentation of the musical ride is her favourite. She explained, “it is great to see kids working as a team and be so engaged in it. I love to see their smiles as they come around”. She also notes the great friendships that have developed over the years and that Lancers makes sure she isn’t as sedentary as she would be otherwise. One thing she loves about Lancers is the organisation’s deep, meaningful, and important history. She added, “And we should endeavour to try to become more involved in the community if we possibly can – the way we used to be. The city has been very good to us because horses aren’t usually compatible with city life. People can’t keep backyard chickens but we have front yard horses in this city. We need to make sure that we give back to the city which we are doing a whole lot more than the last few years through Open House, Doors Open, and musical ride performances”.
Helga always starts her day off with a coffee and a Soduku puzzle and then generally heads over to Lancers or sets off for Lancers’ errands. It must be a magic combination because Helga (and Peter) are startlingly youthful. She is witty, has a sharp sense of humour, and is incredibly supportive. She goes above and beyond and it is no exaggeration that Lancers wouldn’t be able to function as it does without her. We had to ask her the tough question of whether she would be thinking of retiring from Lancers sometime but she reassured us that she will stick around “until she can no longer climb her ladder”. We hope that day never comes!
So when you next catch Helga at the stables, make sure you thank her for all of her hard work. She does so much behind the scenes and deserves all the credit for her efforts and dedication to Lancers. Thank you, Helga, for giving so much of your time, energy, and enthusiasm to Lancers over the past nearly twenty years. We’re so lucky to have you!
P.S. a fun fact (of many) about Helga is that she once was a shepherd in Northumbria (England) and was in charge of 1,500 ewes! Her herd is smaller now but she shepherds us all the same.