SHERRARD, Ill. — A local veterinarian has been recognized as the PATH 2020 National Veterinarian of the Year.
Dr. Ashley Wegmann of Welton, Iowa, first one the Region 7 award after being nominated for her work at New Kingdom Trailriders in Sherrard, Illinois.
New Kingdom is one of 800 national organizations accredited through the Professional Association of Theraputic Horsemanship (PATH). They work to bring wellness and therapy, for all people, despite their previous experience or different-abilities, through horses.
"At New Kingdom Trailriders, when we teach lessons, we provide lessons that have a therapeutic effect," said Monika Sauer, Volunteer Coordinator at New Kingdom.
The program is funded largely through donations and grants, and relies on a strong network of volunteers, just like Dr. Wegmann.
She first found out about New Kingdom through online searches and references from her own clients at Dewitt Veterinary Clinic. And while it's only been a year since she first started volunteering her time and talents to the center, her passion for the place is undeniable.
"I love New Kingdom for all they do for the community" said Dr. Wegmann. "Whether it's a stress reliever or physical therapy...they've got something for everybody."
Since then, she helps with anything "horse health-wise," including vaccinations, worms, illnesses and injuries.
"She's so excellent with her care and how she treats our horses," said Sauer. "She treats each of our animals like her own."
Much of Dr. Wegmann's work with New Kingdom is done over text, through FaceTime, or on one of her visits out to the organization - a 50 minute drive from her own farm. Whatever time she puts into helping the center is donated, and she goes out of her way to find low-cost medication for the horses, as well as partner New Kingdom with different organizations that can donate medicine.
Last year, a new horse came into New Kingdom with a laceration on her back leg. Staff say they FaceTimed Dr. Wegmann, who walked them through cleaning it out and protecting the horse - affectionately named 'Buttercup' - from future infection. Sauer says by helping the staff understand how they could help, Dr. Wegmann not only gave them advice and knowledge, but saved them the bill of a veterinarian coming out and looking at Buttercup instead.
"It may seem like a bunch of little things," said Sauer. "But the horses are the heart of our organization. And when you're donation funded, every little bit helps."
Dr. Wegmann also connects the center with clients around the Quad Cities area that may have horses without a job, that can spend time giving lessons at New Kingdom.
Sauer pointed out that on top of everything Dr. Wegmann does for New Kingdom, she also tries her hardest to explain the what, why and how behind all of her actions and medical advice.
"It reminded me so much of what we do here at New Kingdom," said Sauer. "We like to explain the why behind everything we do, and she does the exact same thing."
It was all of this that prompted Sauer and the rest of the staff to nominate Dr. Wegmann for the Region 7 Veterinarian Award through PATH. Each of the 800 accredited facilities across the country are asked to nominate exceptional contributions to the field of Equine Assisted Activities & Therapies.
After winning in February, she was automatically entered into the national running. And a few months later, a surprise showed up at her farm.
"I actually found the award in the mail but didn't even know I had won," laughed Dr. Wegmann. "I texted Monika [Sauer] like 'Did you know anything about this?' And she didn't either. Everyone was super excited!"
But on the two times WQAD asked her why she thought she had won, Dr. Wegmann didn't have an answer.
"Volunteering is something I feel like everyone needs to do so I don't feel like I did something special. I was just giving back to the community and I don't need an award for that," she said.
Even though her contributions are plain to see for all those at New Kingdom - both two legged and four legged.
"She goes over and above and beyond for us," said Sauer.
If you wish to learn more about New Kingdom Trailriders, you can check out their website here. Donations can be given here. And if you'd like to volunteer, like Dr. Wegmann, you can sign up for that here.
As she jokes, "Everyone should volunteer. It's a great place to spend your time. And you can clean out the stalls, to make it a little easier for me."