3-year-old finds joy in therapeutic riding

Center improves life for countless people

Three-year-old Chloe Doucet of Luling is one whose life has been touched in a positive way by the Greater New Orleans Therapeutic Riding Center (GNOTRC).

Lauren Doucet said her daughter, at birth, was diagnosed with amniotic band syndrome (ABS), which occurs when an unborn baby becomes entangled in fibrous string-like amniotic bands in the womb, restricting blood flow and affecting the baby’s development.

It can prevent growth and cause amputation. Chloe’s right arm did not develop fully  and she has a prosthetic leg – but when she’s on horseback, her stature is greater than just about anyone’s.

“She’s not limiting herself,” said Lauren. “I look at her and I’m just proud. She realizes she can ride just like anyone else there rides, and she just loves it.”

The LaPlace center is run by Anita Hefler, who founded it in 1993. Since that time, it has helped improve the quality of life for countless people, providing therapy for those with disabilities. Horse-assisted activities improve muscle tone, balance, posture, coordination, motor development and emotional well-being.

“The movement of the horse is the most similar to the human walking gait,” Hefler said. “It cannot be duplicated anywhere. So, kids who don’t walk well or don’t walk at all get normalized input. That teaches the brain.”

Hefler noted riding improves development of upper body strength, balance and coordination – things needed to sit up, stand and walk.

For Chloe, it’s a means to develop better balance and evening out the development of both sides of her body.

“We want both sides to be just as strong and not one to take over the other side,” Hefler said. “She holds the reins with her good hand. We modify the activities to her abilities.”

As fate would have it, Lauren actually volunteered with the riding center when she was a senior at Destrehan High School, falling in love with the cause and eventually even making her senior project about the GNOTRC.

When Chloe was diagnosed with ABS, Lauren knew the center could help, and when Chloe turned two, she got on her first horse.

“She fell in love with it like I did,” Lauren said. “She fell in love with all the animals there. She goes every other Saturday.”

And she doesn’t like to cut her ride short.

“She was stung by a bee (during one visit) and started crying,” Hefler said. “We were all trying to calm her down. When grandma suggested they go home instead of riding, she had none of that. She was riding.”

United Way of St. Charles provides funding for the center, most recently helping to make GNOTRC’s new covered arena a reality. That covered area provides riders refuge from heat and rain, and most importantly, allows the center to be able to hold lessons consistently without having to cancel for weather-related feats.

The United Way also has allowed some riders to ride “on scholarship,” covering the $25 per lesson fee for some whose families might have trouble affording it.

“It allows us to have classes all the time, which helps us financially and helps the kids be more consistent with classes. We don’t have to miss days or weeks, which is such a relief,” Hefler said.

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