Riders on the Storm

When Covid-19 left a nonprofit barn with 14 therapy horses without volunteers to feed, groom,  and exercise them, Stevenson junior Lucie Whatmore stepped in.

It was disappointing for Lucie Whatmore ’21, when the Giant Steps Charity Club she started with her classmate Ryan Jones ’21 this year was cancelled along with the rest of the extracurriculars that make being a boarder at Stevenson so much fun. Lucie likes her online classes, but she was looking forward to the lunchtime bake sales and the fundraisers that would bring in donations for the nonprofit Giant Steps Therapeutic Equestrian Center in Petaluma, where Lucie had volunteered for years, walking horses on a lead while veterans with PTSD and children with cerebral palsy or autism gained a literal sense of balance and strength. 

“Being on a horse that size,” Lucy says from her home in Marin County, “when you have a developmental issue or a disability, really helps with self-confidence and building happiness.” 

Lucie started riding at three, and showing at nine, so she knows what she’s talking about.  

Fast forward to Governor Newsom’s shelter-in-place order that came to Marin County three days after school was closed on March 13th: all the volunteers who took care of Giant Steps’ donations-based barn and their 14 horses were forbidden to come to Petaluma to do their jobs. 

Lucky for the equestrian center, Lucie’s mom, Jane Whatmore, loves the place as much as Lucie does—so much so that she’s on the board. Understanding the situation was dire for the horses, she weighed the pros and cons and finally asked Lucie if she could take one day off a week from school to come help her at the barn—feeding, grooming, and exercising the horses, and also making videos for the clients to keep them involved.

“I talked to my advisor, Dr. Griffith,” Lucie says, “and my teachers. And I just asked if it would be OK if I joined in on classes via recorded Zoom, and watched them later. That way, on Tuesdays, I could go out and take care of the horses. And they all said it was fine. They were super receptive, very helpful, and really open to communication about this.” 

Julie Larson, the program director at Giant Steps, describes Lucie as “mature, responsible, and confident.” She adds, “She’s also a great rider. Knowing that she’s working with the horses gives our staff the time to focus on re-opening and fundraising strategies during this uncertain time.”    

“I’ve been really enjoying it,” Lucie says. She explains that Stevenson emphasizes the importance of community service, so her work at the barn fits right in with her education. “We all know that we’re really lucky and privileged to have the kind of education and experience that we get at school,” she says. “So we’re encouraged to go out and experience things other than just our bubble. That’s really promoted and celebrated.”

That being said, Lucie is very much hoping to get back to campus in the fall to start up her charity club once again with her friend Ryan. “We were brainstorming different ideas and thinking of taking a group to the therapeutic riding center in Carmel Valley, if they need volunteers.” she says. And there will be lunchtime bake sales, too, all to support the horses at Giant Step.     

Trish Deitch