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Heartland Equine Therapeutic Riding Academy (HETRA)’s mission is to improve the quality of life both physically and emotionally of adults and children of all ability levels through equine assisted activities. HETRA participants and volunteers have originated from 20 different counties in Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa. HETRA offers various programming to serve individuals with a variety of disabilities from ages 2 to adult. HETRA’s rich history of participants also include senior riders ages 76 and 92!

A horse’s gait is similar to a human’s gait and the movement of the horse provides the rider feedback they may not be able to achieve on their own. Riding strengthens core muscles, challenges and improves balance, relaxes tight muscles, and improves range of motion. Year round, each week, up to 140 participants of all ages leave behind wheel chairs, crutches, and walking canes to mount a horse, taking strides they would otherwise not be able to take on their own. Supporting these riders include close to 150 volunteers in over 200 volunteer shifts a week!

HETRA is Nebraska’s only Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.) Premier Accredited Center. Premier status is granted to centers that have demonstrated excellence in providing quality equine assisted activities and have met established industry standards in areas of safety, facility, programming, and policies. Four of HETRA’s instructors have been recognized nationally by PATH Intl for their dedication and leadership in the field of equine assisted activities. HETRA’s trained staff include licensed therapists (Occupational, Physical, Mental Health), Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International Certified Instructors, and 20 horses of various body shapes and movement.

Equine assisted activities have mental, emotional, and physical benefits for the aging population. Activities provide exercises that increases physical strength, muscle tone, balance, range of motion, hand/eye coordination, along with many other physical benefits. An Occupational Therapist stated, one horse can take the place of over 35 pieces of equipment traditionally used in clinical settings. There is a positive emotional benefit being in the barn environment; keeping people engaged in the community, building relationships in an intergenerational activity, and cognitive processing of complex activities.

There are several program offerings within the organization. Therapeutic Riding is one and is conducted in a group setting. This particular program teaches reining and use of aids while incorporating therapeutic benefits such as balance and team work. Hippotherapy, hippo is the Latin word for horse, utilizes the 3-dimensional movement of the horse as the primary therapeutic tool and is conducted by Occupational and Physical therapists. Goals of this program are therapy directed such as improving balance, coordination, posture, fine motor control, improving articulation, and increasing cognitive skills. HETRA’s Therapeutic Carriage Driving program exists for individuals who wish to participant in unmounted equine activities. Therapeutic Carriage Driving combines the knowledge of horses, harnessing, and carriage driving skills. Balance, hand eye coordination, and sensory integration are a few of the therapeutic benefits to carriage driving. The Equine Services for Veterans Program involves mounted and unmounted activities. This program is designed to provide opportunities for improvement physically, mentally and socially for military Veterans of all ages and disability types.
HETRA’s Enrichment Program offers tours to experience the barn environment. Meeting horses of all sizes, from our miniature horses to the astounding drafts, there is always a great interest in the history of each horse and the participants often share stories of growing up on farms and past riding adventures of their own! HETRA horses can help participants overcome anxiety and depression, can decrease a sense of isolation, and allow participants to recall experiences from their past.

Exercise and activity are critical components to maintaining a healthy life style. Volunteer opportunities in the HETRA barn include sidewalking, horse leading, barn duties, and special event volunteers. Volunteering offers another opportunity to be physically active, give back to the community, become immersed in the barn environment and around horses. Assisting with sessions is typically a 2 hour shift and involves sidewalking with the participant for up to 45 minutes at a time. Walking in the arena sand adds resistance to the walk and increases calorie burned by 20%. Depending on your body type, cleaning one stall can burn 70-80 calories. A HETRA volunteer states she has little motivation to walk her treadmill at home, but she eagerly walks for two hours during her volunteer time at the barn. She is proud of her sweat-soaked clothes. After coming out to the barn to volunteer, she reports losing 30 pounds in one year! In addition to the riding arena, there are many opportunities to be active in the barn. Cleaning stalls, sweeping barn isles, sanitizing toys, all provide active workouts in the heated barn which operates year round.
Contact Jodi at 402-359-8830 to learn more about participating in one of the equine assisted activities and therapies as a participant or volunteer. HETRA is grateful to Immanuel Vision Foundation for supporting participant fees and enrichment experiences in 2017.

Save the Date! April 28, 2018 is HETRA’s “Blue Jeans and Dreams” event. Come to support the HETRA Participant Scholarship Fund, meet the horses, eat some exceptional BBQ, and bid on amazing items.