Animal science students partner with One Heart Equestrian Therapy

April 22, 2021

Students in animal science 415, Equine Systems Management (AN S 415), have the opportunity to gain hands on-experience and extra credit in the course by volunteering for One Heart Equestrian Therapy, Inc. One Heart is an organization north of Ames, Iowa that partners with physical therapy professionals to implement treatment programs for both adults and children with disabilities.

Kris Lager, founder of One Heart Equestrian Therapy started this business from the ground up based on a dream and a need that she saw as a special needs mother. Lager was raised with a horse background and became interested in the therapeutic riding programs for her daughter and another local child with disabilities.

One Heart provides a wide variety of therapeutic riding services. These include developmental riding classes for children and adults with physical or intellectual disabilities and driving classes for those who cannot ride a horse but want the benefits of therapy. They also have horsemanship classes with mini horses for therapeutic experiences with animals to individuals who are unable to ride. These horsemanship skills have been shown to increase participants’ mobility, confidence and self-esteem which then transfer to other areas of their life.

One Heart is a member center of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International and is currently home to eight horses and five miniature horses. One Heart will be celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. They still have their first horse, Rosie, who was donated from Tulsa, Oklahoma to start the business. Rosie was recognized as the PATH Region 7 Horse of the Year in 2021 and is a contender for the PATH International Horse of the Year.

One of the most inspiring things about One Heart is the support from local community groups. Lager told us that the community has rallied around her to support this dream. The organization runs almost entirely on donations and with volunteer workers.  

Lager reports that students from the AN S 415 course and other Iowa State student groups have become regulars in the volunteer crew. “The student volunteers bring a lot of energy to our programs and facility,” Lager said. It is a great chance for students to network while gaining hands-on experience at an equine-assisted therapeutic facility.

Students help out by riding newly donated horses to assess their demeanor and capabilities before they are used for therapy sessions. Students also assist during the therapy sessions by leading the horses or serving as a side-walker to facilitate the instructor’s directions to the participant. Students are exposed to techniques for handling therapeutic horses which are much different than what they learn in their formal education or from working with show horses or race horses.

Many students from AN S 415 are also members of the Iowa State Equestrian Club – Western Team. This group of students became familiar with One Heart through AN S 415, but then decided to expand their time there and took on a special service project at One Heart to test out two recently donated, potential therapy horses, Dilly and Dude. This helps Lager know what the horses can handle before beginning them in the One Heart therapy programming.

Carlie Wasmund, animal science senior and ISU Equestrian Club Secretary/Co-social chair said, “Working with One Heart has provided us with a completely different perspective for working with horses and has challenged us to change how we handle and train them. The first night we worked with Dilly & Dude, we realized we all had to adjust our usual riding style to a different type of riding for One Heart's therapy horses.”

The Iowa State Equestrian Club - Western Team promotes the sport and discipline associated with competitive horseback riding. They have members with a wide variety of skillsets from those who have never ridden before to National title winners.

Many of these students were not previously familiar with One Heart or working with therapy horses, so they have enjoyed learning about One Heart’s mission. “It's also given me a new perspective on a horse's purpose as so many of us see them as an athlete or pet, whereas One Heart uses them as a tool for therapy,” Wasmund said.

There are also opportunities for students to assist with facility care, cleaning tack and managing group volunteer schedules. Lager said she has a great relationship with many Iowa State student groups such as Block and Bridle, the horse interest group, rodeo club, pre-vet club and the equestrian teams. She also likes to expose the students to various aspects of the business side. She said there are opportunities for student involvement from nearly any discipline from engineering to graphic design students.

If you’d like to follow along with what’s happening at One Heart or volunteer your time, please visit their website or their Facebook page.

Student volunteers at One Heart Equestrian Therapy during Spring 2021

Left to Right: Maddie Messina (One Heart intern and ISU Senior, human services), Little horse – Dude, Kendra Schultz (Junior, animal science and ISU Equestrian Club President), Erin Jacobsen (Senior, biology and ISU Equestrian Club Vice President), Kammi Bishop (Junior, animal science and ISU Equestrian Club PR/Co-Social Chair), Hailey Gandrup (Junior, animal science and ISU Equestrian Club member), Big horse – Dilly, Carlie Wasmund (Senior, animal science/pre-vet and ISU Equestrian Club Secretary/Co-Social Chair), Kris Lager (Director of One Heart Equestrian Therapy)

Not pictured Morgan Kirsch (Senior, animal science/pre-vet, AnSci 415 student) and Sami Bigalk (Senior, PreVet, AnSci 415 student)