Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE) awarded grants to 73 organizations last year.

One of these organizations, Heartland Equine Therapeutic Riding Academy (HETRA), used grant funding to improve the quality of life of adults and children with disabilities through equine-assisted activities.

HETRA, which serves disabled individuals from eastern Nebraska and western Iowa as well as able bodied riders, provides a variety of programs, including Therapeutic Riding and Equine Services for Veterans.

These programs are designed to enhance traditional methods of therapy and provide a stimulating and therapeutic work environment.

Jodi Teal, development director, said horses provide riders with motivation and enable them to develop fine motor skills, spatial awareness, and coordination.

“The HETRA horses are strong motivators to work weak muscles to pet the horse’s mane, to speak clearly to tell their horses to walk on or to turn the horse by moving the reins and using leg pressure,” Teal said. “A horse’s gait mimics a human gait, therefore providing the body with the feedback of a normal walking gait.”

Helping disabled individuals break down social, recreational and employment barriers is one of the program’s goals. Breaking these barriers enables disabled individuals to form new relationships, learn new skills and increase physical activity.

Additionally, program participants have the opportunity to set therapy-directed goals with assistance from HETRA staff, like improving balance or fine motor skills.

In 2017, BCBSNE funding was used to help families in financial need participate in HETRA programs.