Champion of Equine Service Academic Scholarship
In March, 2019, McKenna Pace started volunteering with TRAX Equestrian Center (TEC)
, a non-profit Equine Facilitated Learning Center for children and adults with neurological and physical disabilities in Riverside, California.
From the moment she began volunteering, McKenna was reminded every day of the great healing power of horses. McKenna has worked with clients of all different ages, abilities and personalities. She has worked with individuals who cannot walk on their own, with young girls and boys, the elderly, individuals with limited vision and hearing, and individuals with severe behavioral problems.
McKenna believes that the uniting factor between these people is the joy and healing that comes with interacting with horses. McKenna shared, "When they ride horses, they feel empowered in their ability to work with and successfully control a 1,000-2,000- pound animal. When they groom and care for their horses, they become confident of their safety and perhaps even start to think of their horse as a trustworthy friend."
In her experience as a volunteer, McKenna has witnessed the first experiences of individuals with horses and has observed that these first sessions can involve a bit of stress, fear, and frustration. But, after that initial experience, the fear dissipates rapidly and the riders begin to develop a beautiful relationship of faith, kindness, and support with their horse. McKenna has seen that the relationship between the riders and their horses is one they can count on and look forward to progressing, even if their interactions with other humans may be complicated. Seeing the development of these relationships is why McKenna chooses to spend her time away from school and life's responsibilities by volunteering at TRAX.
Becoming a part of the TEC program has helped McKenna with her own struggles as well. She found that working with horses allows her to distance herself from the stresses of life. McKenna shared, "After working with horses, my anxiety is often minimized and sometimes diminished completely. When grooming horses, I feel calm and relaxed. When feeding them, I smile knowing that I have helped them nourish their bodies. When riding, I connect with my horse as a friend and partner working with me to achieve a goal." McKenna considers herself to be privileged to have the opportunity to experience the kind spirit of horses and grateful that working with them has allowed her to completely dissociate from stressful mindsets and simply enjoy the present. In her time at TEC, her work with horses has had a stunning impact on her mental health and ability to step away from the unpredictable struggles of everyday life.
McKenna not only sees herself volunteering for many years to come, but also plans on incorporating equine therapy into her future career. McKenna is currently in her third year of her undergraduate studies at the University of California, Irvine, majoring in biological sciences. When she graduates, she plans to pursue a Master's degree in Genetic Counseling. In the future as a Genetic Counselor, McKenna will be working with individuals affected by many different types of genetic conditions including Down Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, Huntington's Disease and cancer. McKenna plans to advocate for equine therapy as a treatment option in the traditional healthcare system.