Sports & Fitness

Star Light Therapeutic Riding Program

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Star Light Therapeutic Riding, Inc. of Dacula, GA, is nonprofit program providing horseback riding and equine-assisted activities for special needs children and adults. Their passion is to stimulate personal growth and enhance learning through recreational equine experiences.

Therapeutic riding involves equine-assisted activities as a form of therapy to achieve physical, psychological, cognitive, emotional or behavioral goals. The emphasis is on an enjoyable and relaxing experience that provides additional therapeutic benefits in the areas of socialization, increased independence, improved balance and posture, and overall, enhances the student”s quality of life as well as promotes self esteem.

The program started in February 2002 with three students and two horses and has grown to over 70 students and five horses. Currently residing at Star Light Farm, a premiere boarding and lesson facility in Dacula, they have many beautiful stories to share about the impact the program has had on participants# lives. Many of the participants are able to overcome obstacles and barriers when other therapies have failed. Why? It is hard to explain, but amazing to watch. The horse is often a strong motivator in allowing the student to express themselves in ways they have previously found inhibiting. This can result in a physical, emotional or communicative expression. Often the improvements experienced carry over into many areas of the participant”s life once they leave the facility. It is wonderful to witness a nonverbal six-year-old with autism begin to speak, or children afraid to touch the horses begging to feed the horses a carrot after a lesson. Equally exciting is a rider who began with three volunteers assisting them in a riding lesson progress to independent riding.

Star Light serve a diverse spectrum of cognitive impairments such as: Asperger”s Syndrome, Autism, Down”s Syndrome, Sensory Integration Dysfunction, ADD, ADHD, Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), Oppositional-Defiant Disorder (ODD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) and Learning Disabilities.

They also offer equine facilitated psychotherapy in collaboration with Kay Watson and Dream Quest. Kay Watson, M.Ed., LPC, NCC, is a licensed professional counselor. Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy promotes both personal exploration of feelings and behaviors, and allows for clinical interpretation of these feelings and behaviors that can lead to psychosocial healing and growth.

In addition to individual and group lessons, Star Light”s School Partnership Program targets special needs students in the Gwinnett County school system. They currently work with special education counselors to bring in students during the school day as part of the community skills program. Over 50 students from Harbins Elementary, Hooper Renwick, Harmony Elementary, Holsenbeck Elementary and Lilburn Elementary have participated in the program. The counselors are experiencing wonderful results with their students as they observe improvements in behavior in the classroom. Therapeutic riding has proven to be a successful incentive for good behavior.

A NARHA operating center (North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, NARHA.org), the program depends on volunteers. Volunteers lead or walk beside the horse and mounted student and assist with unmounted lesson activities such as grooming and tacking the horses. They provide volunteer orientation and training throughout the year. Volunteers must be 14 years of age. Horse experience is preferred, but not required.

Star Light relies heavily on donation support and has been canvassing the community to build awareness of the programs. Donation support is greatly appreciated and is 100 percent tax deductible.

Star Light Farm, their sponsor an