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What's Up Magazine

Towne Salute: Amber Bannon

Mar 01, 2018 07:00AM
By Nicole Gould

Down Hillmeade Road, through the trees, sits a purple barn surrounded by white railed fences enclosing 16 beautiful horses and the volunteers who love them. 

That’s where you’ll find Amber Bannon, greeting you with a smile from ear to ear. Bannon is a special needs volunteer for The Big Purple Barn, a sanctuary located in Bowie that provides a permanent home to horses from various rescues, slaughter auctions, and private placements.

Bannon was fortunate enough to discover The Big Purple Barn four years ago at BowieFest after coming across the pony rides. Since Bannon is an adult, there was only one larger horse she would be able to ride, an Arabian mare named Champagne Super Nova, “Nova” for short. While riding Nova for the first time, an immediate bond between the two was formed. 

Shortly after, Bannon became a dedicated volunteer for The Big Purple Barn where she spends three days a week lending an experienced set of hands to care for all the animals, but primarily the horses. Some of her responsibilities include feeding, grooming, socializing, and exercising them. 

“She is always excited to learn new things and be responsible for helping new volunteers learn the ropes,” founder Tara Guevara says. “She really is an integral part of our care team and we appreciate the effort and compassion she puts into the everyday routine.”

Although the horses are her favorite, Bannon has also learned how to care for the new animals at the barn including pigs, sheep, and goats. 

“She works hard and is always willing and able to learn and move forward,” Guevara admits. “She is a friendly face to new volunteers and students, has learned to help at outreach events and speak to the public about the barn, animals, and programs, and she also helps lead feed shifts now.”

Bannon’s responsibilities don’t end there because she also assists the barn with
new volunteer orientation. During orientation Bannon will show them the different areas of the barn, talk about safety, and emphasize how much she loves volunteering with them. 

“The Big Purple Barn is truly a happy place for our family,” Bannon’s mom, Adrienne Brill says. “We accompany them to festivals to advocate on behalf of the Barn and the animals that live there. We sponsor Nova and purchase items needed for the other animals too. We try very hard to make ourselves available in any capacity to ensure the animals are cared for as best as possible.” 

While volunteering is already a busy task itself, Bannon decided to add more to her plate and take riding lessons with Nova. Two and half years later both her and Nova have competed in numerous Therapeutic Riding Divisions at the Free State Riding Club in Bowie.

Each show takes place on a Saturday, however Bannon spends a few hours
the Friday before prepping Nova to make sure she’s competition-ready.

“I bathe and groom Nova,” Bannon says. “I file and dress her hoofs, put special stuff in her main and tail, and if she’s a good girl, she gets a treat.”

When competition day arrives, Bannon participates in five different classes; showmanship class, two different walk classes; trot class, and trail class. 

In the showmanship class, riders present their horse to the judge, who will circle both to examine their grooming. She will also make the horse back up two steps, which Bannon admits is not Nova’s favorite task. During walk classes, they have to walk their horses along the fence and also reverse a couple times. This is a way for the judges to watch how the riders hold themselves in the saddle and determine if they’re holding the reins in the correct way. 

Although she’s only been competing for a short while, Bannon has received mostly first, second, and third place awards. She’s received a few fourth places as well, but last year took second overall.

“Tara and the other volunteers taught Amber everything,” Brill’s significant other, Marcus Chambers says. “When your brand new, they put you through an orientation phase and then you gravitate towards one specific skill. Once you’ve decided on what you want to do, they train you in that field and walk you through it.”

Outside of the barn, Bannon spends her Saturday’s, when she’s not competing,
as the assistant coach of the Family, Friends & Fun Ten Pin Bowling League, a recreational bowling league for players with disabilities and special needs. As the assistant coach, Bannon makes sure everyone takes their turn, watches for lane courtesy, and keeps the score. 

Bannon is so full of life, spreading happiness to everyone she meets, which not only makes her an incredible volunteer, but one extraordinary person. 

For more information on The Big Purple Barn visit 

Do you have a volunteer to nominate? Email Caley Breese at