BY KELLY J. RIIBE, ’03
Alumni Profile ’15
For 2015 grad, It’s More Than Horsing Around Shelby Winnail
University of Nebraska-Lincoln alumna Shelby Winnail is very comfortable around horses. She has been riding since she was a little girl and majored in animal science as an undergraduate. Her current employer, Heartland Equine Therapeutic Riding Academy (HETRA), once operated out of her family’s barn. “I grew up with HETRA for as long as I can remember,” said Winnail who earned her bachelor’s degree in 2015 and credited professors Lena Luck and Kathleen Anderson with teaching her a lot about management and horse health. HETRA consists of 25 acres of land in Gretna, Neb. On this property there are staff and volunteers working hard to provide resources to those in need. Participants may include children, adults and veterans. Therapeutic riding and carriage driving is done on-site, as well as hippotherapy.
Therapeutic riding and horsemanship skills are available in a group setting at HETRA. Hippotherapy is one on one, and participants work directly with occupational or physical therapists. A public riding program is also offered, which allows volunteers and siblings of therapy students the chance to horseback ride. “We know from studies that just the movement of the horse is therapeutic to people,” said Winnail who explained hippotherapy as being when the “horse is a tool” for improving posture, coordination and strength. Winnail enjoys all of her duties at HETRA, and is particularly fond of being a therapeutic riding instructor. The lessons she teaches will often include an item not typically found in a horse arena. “One of the most popular tools that our therapeutic riding instructors and therapists use is a pool noodle,” said
“We know from studies that just the movement of the horse is therapeutic to people,” said Winnail who explained hippotherapy as being when the “horse is a tool” for improving posture, coordination and strength. The riding lessons offered can assist students who have traumatic brain injuries, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, autism, etc. Winnail is HETRA’s facilities coordinator and in charge of making sure the animals have good accommodations and that the horse arena is properly maintained. She is a licensed therapeutic riding instructor, and also assists the horse manager with animal conditioning and training duties.
the Valley, Neb., native. The pool noodle is used in multiple ways and introduced early to HETRA horses in training so that they become well acclimated to it. Wiffle balls will be set on cones, so students can use a noodle to try to knock the balls off the cones polo style. “Hitting the ball with the noodle works hand-eye coordination and visual tracking of objects,” explained Winnail.
Staff may also weave the cones, and work with students to cross their mid-section with the noodle in order to improve the rider’s motion range and promote muscle strengthening. Winnail and the horse manager train the animals together. Currently 15 horses are “rock solid” and able to work with riders, while three are being coached to become HETRA therapy horses. “They go through a long training process,” said Winnail who is also certified in equine massage. Horses are acquired through donations or long-term leases. She noted that they used to take horses in the 15-20 year age group, but things have changed due to the organization’s growth. They are now finding horses that are 8-15 years old, because the majority of riders are over the age of 13. Therefore a stronger, and sometimes more youthful horse may be required. “The build of horse is also important,” noted Winnail who was excited when HETRA moved to its own free-standing facility in June of 2014. Prior to the move, it operated out of two locations; one of which was Winnail’s mother’s property. Winnail now has the pleasure of working with some individuals that have known her since she was six years old. “It’s really kind of a family environ-
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Nebraska Magazine Summer 2017 Issue