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UK Equestrian with Olympic Goals Passes Passion for Nursing on to Mentee

Alexa Ehlers and Mary Kate Khir are childhood friends from Texas, fellow equestrians and now nursing students at the University of Kentucky.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 4, 2016) — Amistoso shook his head, wiggled his ears and danced in place. University of Kentucky College of Nursing student Alexa Ehlers rushed to the horse’s side and scratched an itch on a spot near his left shoulder.

“There you go, Ami,” she said.

Ehlers, a member of the UK Dressage and Eventing Team, keeps Ami and nearly 20 horses boarded on her family’s farm situated behind Keeneland Racetrack. One horse, Mo, belongs to UK pre-nursing student Mary Kate Klir.

​Ehlers and Klir attended the same high school in Texas. When Ehlers came to Kentucky to attend nursing school, her family decided to purchase the farm as a business opportunity.

“I was in band with her older brother,” Ehlers said. “He asked me if I taught riding lessons and I ended up giving Mary Kate lessons on my first pony. She’s like my little sister now.”

Although four years apart, the small-town Texas pair reunited in Lexington during the summers while Klir was still in high school. Now, they are both bound for nursing careers.

“We’d just hang out and she’d help me with the barn and take care of the horses. I absolutely loved having her here,” Ehlers said.

Since Klir’s arrival in Lexington, Mo hasn’t had much luck with his health. Klir visits Ehlers’s barn once a day to wrap his leg for two strained ligaments – a physically and emotionally exhausting setback amid a whirlwind of pre-nursing obligations. Yet she remains hopeful that soon she’ll be able to ride Mo once again.

“Caring for a horse takes a lot of responsibility, and it’s nice because I know how to wrap, ice and give IM [intramuscular] and IV [intravenous] injections,” Klir said. “It isn’t exactly the same as caring for a person, but it definitely provides a foundation of knowledge that will help me as nurse in the future.”

Although the pair shares a passion for nursing and riding, Ehlers, on the other hand, wishes to pursue riding professionally. She recently competed in the Hagyard Midsouth United States Equestrian Federation National Championship CCI* and, with help from Ami, placed sixth out of 50 competitors.

“From a very young age, I’ve wanted to ride and be a professional,” Ehlers said. “But it wasn’t until my junior year of high school when my trainer’s wife suggested nursing as a profession to supplement my career as a professional rider that I really considered nursing.”

For Ehlers, nursing and riding complement each other in an unexpected way.

“The longer I’m in nursing, the more I realize the skills I’m taught here can translate to riding, such as organization, time management, planning and critical thinking. Every time I step into the classroom, simulation lab or onto the hospital floor, my professors and instructors encourage me to further develop these skills, in turn making me a better rider.”

Despite the hardships that come with balancing both school and riding, Ehlers has maintained a positive attitude – even after she took a hard fall and broke her back while riding three years ago. Ehlers said everyday tasks were difficult, including participating in her ceramics course at UK.

Now, Ehlers is determined to make the U25 Developing Riders List, with long-term goals of getting a spot on the U.S. Olympic Eventing Team. However, she’s just as determined to have a successful nursing career in an oncology setting. While working toward these goals, she’s inspiring Klir in both equestrian and nursing endeavors.

“Alexa is a role model to me,” says Klir. “She encourages me to do better and not make the same mistakes she did and she would drop everything to help anyone. That’s just the kind of person she is.”

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