Nicole Aaberg is a US Equestrian Interscholastic Athlete Program graduate whose passion for horses led her to helping her community and achieving a major award in 2020. She has been a Girl Scout for most of her life and received her Girl Scout Gold Award after completing a project that involved raising awareness for helmet safety and providing helmets to a local equine-assisted growth and learning therapy program in her hometown of Thousand Oaks, Calif. As Aaberg developed her leadership skills during her project, she also realized the impact she could have on the equestrian community by sharing her personal story relating to helmet safety.
Horses have been a part of Aaberg’s life since she caught the horse bug at a friend’s birthday party in the fourth grade. “I immediately fell in love with riding and being around horses,” she said.
Aaberg began taking lessons and learning much from the different horses she rode over the years.
“Around sixth grade, I started showing in local shows, and I joined my local Grange group, which is similar to 4H, and that allowed me to show at a larger scale at county fairs. Eventually, when I got my own horse, Cody, back in 2015, I was able to broaden my riding further,” she said. Aaberg prefers Western and ranch riding, but she has experience with gymkhanas, English, and jumping, too.
Aaberg’s involvement with Girl Scouts began in kindergarten, where she got her start as a Daisy and rose through the ranks. She is still a Girl Scout today. “I love it because it is a great program that helps young girls group together to help their community, and I have formed really great friendships along the way,” Aaberg said.
As an accomplished Girl Scout, Aaberg wanted to earn the Girl Scout Gold Award. “It is basically the highest achievement a Girl Scout can earn, and it is something that can help make the world a better place,” Aaberg explained. “It is centered around something you are deeply passionate about.”
She decided to combine her passion for horses with bringing attention to the LookUp! Life Coaching program, which collaborates with Red Hat Cowgirl in Thousand Oaks, Calif., for use of horses and facilities. “It uses equine-assisted growth and learning therapy that helps young women and girls, some of whom have been abused by means of human trafficking,” Aaberg said. “I have noticed firsthand how great a horse can be for these women and how healing it is for them.”
Participants often don’t have their own helmets, so Aaberg made it one of her initiatives to provide helmets for the program and remind the equestrian community of their importance. Helmet safety is a topic Aaberg feels strongly about, due to her experience with a serious head injury. In 2016, Aaberg, who was wearing a helmet, fell from Cody when he spooked during one of their rides. “I ended up getting a serious concussion that altered my balance. I had to be off of horses for around eight months, and I had to go to physical therapy,” Aaberg said. “I believe if I wasn’t wearing my helmet that day that I could have been really, really hurt or possibly killed. Helmet safety is really, really important and, after that day, I truly understood the meaning behind helmet safety. I knew I needed to get that message across to make sure you wear your helmet, because it can really help save you.
“I decided to raise awareness for the equine-assisted growth and learning therapy participants and helmet safety through holding a camp for younger riders and to raise money and purchase protective riding helmets that would be gifted to these participants.” A Girl Scout mentor advised Aaberg as she worked on her project.
Aaberg did everything from coming up with various activities for the campers to marketing the camp for her project. She ultimately organized a camp for 26 participants between the ages of six and 13 at the Conejo Creek Equestrian Center in Thousand Oaks that followed social distancing and mask protocols. “One of the main things I learned was how much of an impact I can have on the equestrian community,” Aaberg explained. “When I held the camp, I had to make a speech for the younger kids about helmet safety and the equine-assisted growth and learning program, and it was really cool to see how much information they retained and how much they learned at the end of the day. It was really cool, and, through this process, it helped me gain skills of organizing an event, working and collaborating with others, and the most important thing was leadership.”
With the funds raised from the camp, as well as monetary and helmet donations from local tack stores, Aaberg was able to provide 10 helmets to the program. Aaberg’s project not only allowed her to teach young equestrians about the importance of helmet safety, but also allowed girls and women to have a safe experience around horses as they healed from past trauma.
Once Aaberg completed her project, she submitted a final report that included time and expense logs. She spent over 100 hours bringing about positive change in her local community. The importance of wearing helmets while participating in equestrian activities is something Aaberg cannot stress enough. “It is something so simple that can help prevent a lot of damage,” she said. “Put it on your head and you are good to go.”