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May 23, 2024

Kristin Young’s Volunteer Journey with Spur

“I started volunteering at RSL LifeCare Veteran Services Spur Equine Program in February 2019, shortly after medically retiring from a long career as a Defence Psychologist in the Public Service. I had served as a Psychology Officer in the Navy Reserve for almost as long and had many enriching experiences, including several short deployments to the Solomon Islands. Fortunately, I was able to be retained in a limited, non-deployable role in the Navy Reserve and I am still proud to belong to this day. As a Defence Psychologist, I knew transitioning from full time employment for health reasons wouldn’t be easy and I understood the importance of finding meaningful new ways to connect and to serve within my capacities. Volunteering in community activities meets this need perfectly so I actively sought out ways to get involved. 

I heard about Spur through Soldier On, a not-for-profit organisation that delivers holistic support services to current and former ADF personnel, and thought it could be the perfect match for my interests in both horses and veteran issues. I met with Max Streeter, the Spur Equine Program Manager, and immediately felt at home. I started volunteering in supporting the Spur courses and have continued to do that ever since.

Spur has evolved a lot since I joined and I feel privileged to have been part of its growth over the last five years. At the beginning, it was just a bit of a yard with two horses and a pony. But Max had a big vision, and he’s worked hard to make it a reality. Now, Spur has matured into a comprehensive and accessible program providing horse handling and riding courses, in a safe, inclusive and veteran-centric environment. All veterans are welcome, everyone is accepted, if their health permits, and there are a lot of people who, like me, have very diverse connections to the military and lots of interesting life experiences to bring along. 

While I love horse riding and have been doing it since I was eight years old, at Spur I mainly focus on supporting courses from the ground, looking after cleaning, catering and odd jobs around the Ranch. Someone’s got to do it and the riding staff are always so busy and really appreciate a hand. I still get plenty of opportunity to help in caring for the horses, which, with my life-long love of horses, is very satisfying and uplifting. And from time to time, I still get the chance to ride, although with my long term health issues, I am only a shadow of my younger self. 

My motivation for volunteering at Spur is to be able to connect and serve with a community that I value in a way that is compatible with managing my health-related limitations. As a cancer survivor on long term treatment with an uncertain future, I need to be around places and people that can accommodate this. Most veterans, like myself, have health problems, and we need to be in understanding environments like Spur where there’s a culture that says it’s all right if you’re injured, it’s all right if you get tired, and it’s alright if you need a rest. 

I can’t imagine stopping volunteering at Spur. It’s become a part of my identity since I retired. At the moment, with so many courses running, I try to go as often as I can, usually a couple of times a month. I’d love it to be more often but it’s a lot of travel from northern Sydney where I live and I have to juggle it with my other volunteering, my love of travel and managing my fatigue. Max and the team still make me feel like I’m part of things, even though I’m not there every day. I love that.

In addition to my involvement with RSL LifeCare, I am an active volunteer in the Ovarian Cancer community, in research, advocacy and peer support. I also volunteer in medical student education as a pretend patient, and as a communications skills facilitator and examiner. One of my favorite volunteer roles has been with Team Teal, which is a collaboration with the Harness Racing industry to raise awareness and funds for ovarian cancer research and education. Another way to get horses involved in my activities! 

The highlight of my Spur experience is having been part of its transformation from a glint in Max’s eye to the fully-fledged veteran program it is today. Seeing the vision come to life has been deeply rewarding. I am proud to be contributing to a worthwhile activity that benefits the lives of veterans – I can see it on their faces on every course that comes through. And I just enjoy it too!” – Kristin Young, RSL LifeCare volunteer




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