Horses heal, give student purpose
Katie Hufnagel is a Spartan who displays strength through her determination and persevering personality, her father, Clem Hufnagel said.
That persistence led Katie Hufnagel to MSU, where she works with horses to ease the effects of Down syndrome. She now is completing her degree in horse management.
She has given seven motivational speeches and inspires others with her own saying: “Remember, never say, ‘I can’t,’ but say, ‘Even though it may take a little longer,’ tell yourself, ‘I can if I really try.’”
Diagnosed with Down syndrome in 1983, Katie Hufnagel was born into a family of five brothers and sisters. Family and a deep connection to her siblings helped Katie through difficulties related to Down syndrome, her mother Marie Hufnagel said.
“I have learned to treat my Down syndrome as an inconvenience and not something to prevent me from reaching my goals,” Katie Hufnagel said.
Katie decided to come to MSU, following in the footsteps of three of her brothers.
“When Katie sets her mind on something, she does everything possible to accomplish it, and growing up, her brothers and sisters and her father and I taught her she was just like everybody else and she could do anything she put her mind to,” her mother said.
It was when she was 5 years old Katie started riding horses at the 4-H Therapeutic Riding Program, which is an MSU Extension Program. She also rode at the Children and Horses United in Movement, an equestrian program that shares the equine world with children who have disabilities and those who don’t, said Bonnie DePue, Katie’s instructor, mentor and founder of CHUM.
Katie eventually became a volunteer, staff member and mentor to others as her interest in horses defined her future, DePue said.
“Katie’s work with horses have given her a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment,” DePue said. “They have lended hugely to her physical growth in balance, motor skills, quick decision making and problem solving.”
Katie Hufnagel said the riding lessons and time spent with horses helped her become the woman she is today.
“Although riding and participating has really been fun, more importantly, it has helped me to grow and mature socially,” she said.
After earning 34 credits at Lansing Community College, Katie Hufnagel enrolled at MSU and is part of the 18-month long horse management program. The freshman knew she wanted to be a horse trainer and help others with disabilities since she was 10 years old, her father said. She also works at the Michigan Athletic Club twice a week.
“She is so positive and I have never seen Katie not smiling and excited to learn,” said Katelynn Shaw, a preveterinary medicine and animal science senior and fellow volunteer. “Horses have always been her passion since she was young and I know she’s thrilled shes gotten to come to MSU and be involved in this program.”
Katie has inspired many people with her speeches and work with horses, DePue said.
“This is who I know Katie Hufnagel to be: my friend, my student and my teacher, and I am honored to know her,” she said.
Katie is enrolled in mainstream classes and her horsemanship instructor Nicole Rombach said she is impressed with the progress she has made the past two months.
“She has a very good innate feeling and no inhibitions while riding, and that’s something a lot of riders wish they had,” Rombach said.
Every day, Katie said she is pushing forward to earn her degree in horse management and hopes to help others with disabilities in the future.
“If your doing something you love, everything will fall into place,” she said.