young woman with a horse

Leading the Way

Caroline Gomel, Age 16


Life has a way of opening new doors when others close. For sixteen-year-old Caroline Gomel, she worried that when she stopped showing horses competitively, she wouldn’t be able to be around them anymore. But that changed when a friend told her about the Heartland Equine Therapeutic Riding Academy (HETRA) in Gretna. Caroline didn’t hesitate to attend a volunteer tour and quickly signed up to help groom, exercise, tack, and lead horses, which she’s been doing two to three days a week for almost the past three years.

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Edge: What appealed to you about volunteering for HETRA?

Caroline: I’ve always loved horses—we owned horses and I showed them when I was young. When I decided to stop competing because it was too much pressure, I still wanted to have horses in my life. So this has become a way to do that—it’s my horse fix!

Edge: You also get to work with students at HETRA. Do you enjoy that?

Caroline: I love working with the students, especially when I’m able to work with one for a long period of time. I’m able to see how much they’ve improved, and it’s really rewarding.

Edge: How often do you volunteer?

Caroline: During the school year I volunteer every Wednesday afternoon and Saturday morning, and in the summer I often add another day.

Edge: What does your volunteering entail?

Caroline: I groom horses, tack them—put on their blanket, saddle, and stirrups, exercise them before lessons, and I also lead horses during lessons. It’s really hands on, which is what I love.

Edge: How many hours have you volunteered at HETRA?

Caroline: I’ve done over 700 hours since I started. I won the New Volunteer Award in 2015.

Edge: That’s awesome! What’s your favorite part of volunteering?

Caroline: I knew I’d enjoy it since I’d be around horses, but I didn’t know it’d be this much. It’s way more fulfilling than showing horses. It’s all about helping someone else, rather than helping myself. I’m home schooled, so it has really helped me with my people skills, taught me how to get along with all kinds of people, and it has allowed me to work with kids. I also love working with the other volunteers there.

Edge: Is it something you want to continue to do?

Caroline: Definitely. HETRA is a big part of my life, and I want to volunteer there as long as possible. I’d love to be a barn leader some day.

Edge: How old do you have to be to volunteer?

Caroline: As early as age 12 you can be an equipment person, and at age 14 you can be a side walker. HETRA has over 200 volunteers, and there are always people to help you. I highly recommend it for anyone.

Edge: What else do you enjoy doing?

Caroline: I’ve played piano for eight years, I’m active in my church youth group, I teach vacation bible school in the summer, I’ve gone on two mission trips to help kids in Guatemala, and I’d like to major in interior design in college.

Edge: That’s a full plate!

Caroline: (Laughs) It is, but I enjoy it all. And HETRA has been my saving grace. It allows me to have horses in my life, but in a positive way. It makes me, and my parents, happy that I can go out to the HETRA barn and do what I love!

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