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Schyma's interest in equine earns her FFA Star in Agribusiness

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 05/28/2013 8:19 AM

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FOLEY, Minn. —Jenna Schyma shares her interest in horses with others — especially people with special needs.

Using her horsemanship skills and strengths to work with others has garnered the Foley FFA Chapter member the Minnesota FFA Star in Agribusiness.

Schyma's face lights up when she talks about horses and her work with hippotherapy.

She wanted a horse and the dream came true when her parents, Robert and Jolene, gave her a pony. She was nine years old.

Schyma got a bigger horse a few years later from Vicky Sarvela, her neighbor and horse trainer.

"She taught me how to train a horse," Schyma said. "I've used some of her training methods with my own as I've trained other horses and riders. You want to have dominance, but still be soft and have fun with the horse. I am not super-serious when training. You build this relationship. You know the horse and the horse knows you. I think that goes for a lot of things and not just horses."

A new world opened up when her mother asked Schyma to give riding lessons to an autistic student.

She saw how he reacted to the horse during 15 summer lessons and how it prompted him to talk.

She took a keen interest in hippotherapy and led to what she calls her dream job — working at Sharadise Therapeutics in Monticello. She is an assistant under owner Sheri Mangas. Three other employees work as a team with Mangas at Sharadise.

The horses used are either rescued or donation animals.

"For the horses, it's a way for them to serve and keep active,'' Schyma said. "They keep going for these kids and the clients gain skills through the activities."

The horses respond to the interaction.

"The horses are calm and patient when the clients come up to them and ride them," she said. "One client had been working with a speech therapist to put together words and eventually sentences. We were riding on the horse and he said, 'I want to trot.' It wasn't just one word, it was several."

Clients are as eager as Schyma to work with the horses.

"Doing this has been a journey, and I have definitely grown through it," she said. "...I feel that I have learned a lot. I have stayed up late writing grants. It's been a selfless experience as I've worked with others toward the same goals."

Schyma has gained leadership skills and has become more confident, she said. For her SAE, Schyma applied for and received a Farmers Union grant, which she used to purchase a Western-style saddle.

Foley FFA adviser Alan Stemper encouraged her as she worked with her SAE and prompted her to apply for a state degree. It wasn't something she'd planned to do, he said.

The success the older FFAers have achieved is noticed by the younger ones.

"It means a lot for them to see that success," Stemper said.

"I didn't need the Star award to know that this is important to me," Schyma said. "It's definitely an honor to receive it, but it's the fact that I got to work with these people and with the horses. That's what it's all about."

Mangas, an occupational therapist, specializes in hippotherapy for special needs individuals. Schyma plans to attend St. Cloud State University and major in bio-medical science and the pre-occupational therapy program.