Taking the Lead
A sorrel miniature horse with a flaxen mane follows Aimee Schulz anywhere she leads—even to Iowa State University. Her name is Lulu. She can jump higher than she is tall and she’s only the second miniature horse to be inducted into the United States Equestrian Federation and EQUUS Foundation Horse Stars Hall of Fame. Schulz, a sophomore in genetics from Becker, Minnesota, says Lulu’s been a showstopper since she began performing in 2009.
Keeping Lulu in shape for the show season requires practice. During a workout inside a practice arena Schulz led Lulu through her runs without a halter.
“Horses won’t follow you unless you are a leader,” Schulz says. “This isn’t something you can teach a horse. The horse has to offer it to you. They have to choose you as their leader and their herd mate.”
Lulu was rescued from a collapsed metal building with 45 other miniature horses, ponies and donkeys on Mother’s Day in 2008. She was severely traumatized and her right eye was so damaged it had to be removed.
“I spent hours just trying to touch her and gain her trust. She was absolutely wild. She was shaking, but I kept talking to her,” Schulz says. “Finally she walked up to me and decided to adopt me. She fell in love with me and I fell in love with her.”
Schulz says working with horses has taught her perseverance, dedication, patience, responsibility and time management. During her freshman year Schulz won Regional Champion, Semi-Finals Champion and went on to represent Iowa State’s Western Equestrian Team at the National Championships at the Kentucky Horse Park in May.
“I believe if it weren’t for Lulu and all the other horses in my life I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Schulz says.
Schulz is on a path to success. During her first year at Iowa State she was invited to participate in Iowa State’s President’s Leadership Class and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean’s Leadership Class. Both provided scholarships and opportunities she couldn’t pass up.
“President Leath is so cool. He’s laid back, down to earth and he commands the attention of the whole room,” Schulz says.
Each fall, first-year students are selected for the class based on their curricular involvement, service and high school academics. The students meet with Iowa State University President Steven Leath and his wife, Janet, every Tuesday throughout the year.
“Aimee is an active, thoughtful member of the President’s Leadership Class, which consists of 30 of the very best freshman at Iowa State. Her passion for learning and her leadership skills differentiate her even in this elite group of students,” Leath says.
The Dean’s Leadership Class introduced Schulz to leaders in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and industry leaders throughout the nation.
“I want to be a pioneer in my field, do cutting-edge research and find a way to help the world. No one is going to hold me back,” Schulz says.
Working with Matt Hufford, an assistant professor in ecology, evolution and organismal biology, was another opportunity she couldn’t pass up. She is working on various projects until she can start her own research project.
“My lab specializes in maize and teosinte evolutionary genomic research. Teosinte, a wild grass, is corn’s ancestor. We are trying to identify highland and lowland adaptations of maize, look at hybridization of teosinte, and see how different climatic conditions change the appearance of maize and teosinte,” Schulz says.
Her interest in genetics began in junior high after her team lost a 4-H Knowledge Bowl contest because of a genetics question. Schulz began to pursue answers to questions and Jenn Feierabend, her seventh grade science and technology teacher, says she’d never seen anyone so interested. While her classmates were tackling introductory genetics she was moving beyond her grade level.
“She was one of the most enthusiastic science students I had,” Feierabend says. “She was the only one that ever asked for extra tutoring to better understand genetics and she was only twelve. I have never taught or mentored a more dedi- cated, passionate and driven student.”
When Schulz entered 10th grade, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in genetics. Her other passions include the 4-H horse program and Lulu.
After she adopted Lulu she began raising funds for horses, ponies, miniatures and mules. The program is called Pocket Change for Ponies and the first month she raised $1,000. She’s planning another fundraiser this year to help the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation.
Both Lulu and Schulz are leaders in their classes. Lulu serves as the unofficial mascot for the Iowa State University Equestrian Club and visits nursing homes and hospitals. Schulz hopes to certify Lulu as a therapy horse and continue to find new opportunities to make a difference in everything she does.