Soaring to new heights: Program helps those with special needs

By By Lance Traweek / American Press

A Lake Charles non-profit utilizes a therapeutic horse riding program to help children and adults with special needs.

Founded in 2007, Steeds of Acceptance & Renewal (SOAR) offers equine-assisted activities conducted by instructors who are

certified through Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International

Heather Dionne, an instructor, said SOAR teaches individually adapted horseback lessons for all ages.

These special needs may be physical,

cognitive or psychological. Participants could have cerebral palsy,

autism or even attention

deficit disorder.

Dionne, who is also an occupational therapist, said benefits of the activities can help people improve their posture, balance

and strength. She said it can also help improve behavior, challenge cognitive skills and help self-esteem.

The program also puts on a reading

program for students. Started in 2010, SOAR’s literacy project consists

of an initial visit

from SOAR horses, and students are given a book about a horse.

Students will spend the next month reading about horses. At

the conclusion of the literacy program, students visit the horses

and read his or her favorite parts of the book to the horses.

Nathalie Miller, an instructor and French immersion teacher for Calcasieu Parish Schools, said the program targets low-income


“It has been proven through studies that whenever you get in touch with a horse there is a special connection,” Miller said.

“A person’s heartbeat slows down. The horse calms and soothes the person.”

Miller said horses “bring a lot of magic” to a person’s life.

“They have a sense of power through them but extreme gentleness as well,” she said.

Dionne said the program is not covered by insurance. To ensure the rider’s safety, a doctor’s release is required.

Dionne said there is a need for

volunteers to be side walkers or help take care of the horses. If

interested contact her at

794-9489 or For more information on the

program contact Nathalie Miller at 488-4399 or