Therapeutic Riding Center

The Greater New Orleans Therapeutic Riding Center in Laplace offers a great opportunity to support children and adults with disabilities.
Anita Hartzell-Hefler, executive director of GNOTRC

Every Tuesday, Dantin LeBlanc and his wife drive 85 miles from Port Allen to pick up their daughter, Anna, from Magnolia Community Services, an organization that provides support to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They then drive another 20 miles to the Greater New Orleans Therapeutic Riding Center (GNOTRC) in Laplace.

“We’ve been going there since it started, so maybe 15 years or so,” said LeBlanc. “Anna was afraid of animals like dogs and cats, but since foolin’ around with the horses she’s not afraid of anything and she’ll ride any horse Anita puts her on.”

Anita Hartzell-Hefler is the executive director of GNOTRC and, along with her equine staff — which includes: Bambi, Jade, Blu, Music, Meaux-jeaux, Leroy, Polly, Brownie, Sam and Olivia — she improves the quality of life for her many clients.

“We offer customized horseback riding programs to children and adults with a range of cognitive and physical disabilities,” she said, “including those with Down syndrome, those who have suffered from trauma or abuse, or have had a stroke or brain injury.”

Hartzell-Hefler always loved horses but her life was changed when she said she witnessed an equine therapy organization perform for the first time.

“I couldn’t put the faces of the riders out of my mind,” she said. “So I began volunteering at a center and then I just started learning everything about this field.”

She eventually became a certified therapist, then received an advanced certification and went on to form GNOTRC in 1993.


For companies who…

Are looking to get out into the country a bit and work around horses and children, as well as companies with construction or drainage abilities. Therapists, saddle makers and feed stores are also encouraged.

Get Involved:

  • Provide volunteers to help out around the ranch or work with riders
  • Sponsor a fundraising event
  • Sponsor riders and horses
  • Support the associated cost to maintain and improve the GNOTC stables
  • Sponsor a trailer
  • Help improve drainage
  • Create or sponsor custom saddles or vaulting surcingles (leather strap used to stabilize a rider’s weight)
  • Help with lighting, treats, feed and hay

Ongoing Partnerships:
Among others, GNOTRC’s partners include:

Associated Terminals, Shell Pipeline, Dow Chemical Company, Valero St Charles Refinery and the United Way.


GNOTRC has recently rescued a stranded herd of Paso Fino horses, however the organization has found itself completely overwhelmed both in time and effort to care for them. They are in need of $2,000 in donations, immediately, to fund this very important rescue mission.


Success of services

35 to 40 clients ride each month, with some of those riding once a week.   
Many hundreds of children have been served by GNOTRC since its inception.

Therapeutic horseback riding has a centuries-old history. In ancient Greece, it was used to help rehabilitate wounded soldiers. During World War I in England, therapeutic riding was also used to treat injured soldiers. In the mid-20th century, it was used as an effective therapy for those overcoming polio. Currently there are 700 accredited riding centers open in the United States.

How does therapeutic riding work?

“A horse’s movement requires riders to use the same muscles as those used for walking,” Hartzell-Hefler explained. “When people are unable to walk on their own, riding a horse will develop their core muscles and improve balance, posture and strength.”

Riding can also benefit those with autism.

“The rhythmic movements of horses also help children and adults with autism by allowing the brain to take a break from self-stimulating motions such as rocking,” she said. “This allows individuals to open their minds to new topics and increases concentration and patience.”

“It’s our favorite trip,” said Kira Zoe Radtke Friedrich, whose son Aidan was born premature at 24 weeks and spent seven months in a neonatal intensive-care unit. He now has cerebral palsy and retinopathy of prematurity, a condition in which the growth of the eyes is stopped and causes the retinas to detach. “Aidan always knows where he’s going and he gets so excited. And when he comes home, he’s calm and tired. He’s peaceful.

“This therapy helps him maintain his balance and we know he is in a safe environment,” she added. “It’s also a social time for him because he loves interacting with all the volunteers.”

Aidan has virtually no verbal skills, so he uses a communication device. According to his mother, when asked if he had a good time at the center he repeatedly and enthusiastically hits his high five button.

Aidan rides on Bambi — the center’s star, who has a lot in common with many of the clientele.

“When [Bambi] came she had to learn to trust and learn what she needed to do,” said Hartzell-Hefler, “but one day it just seemed as though she took a deep breath and said, ‘Oh, this is what I’m supposed to do.’ Now she’s the foundation of the program.”

The cost of a ride is $25 — a price that has not increased since the organization’s debut in 1993, even though it now costs more than $80 to hold a class. Nobody is ever turned away for lack of funds.

GNOTRC has two part-time staff; volunteers do the rest of the work. Some lead the horses, other walk next to the riders providing physical support, while others help groom the horses and clean up after them.

The volunteers hail from all over but Hartzell-Hefler said the business community has truly stepped up with scores of volunteers who make a big difference in the success of the program.

“The Greater New Orleans Therapeutic Riding Center is a huge asset to have in our community,” said David Fennelly, chairman of Associated Terminals, a cargo handling company out of Arabi. “The difference that the center makes in the lives of so many people is incredible, not only for the individuals that it directly serves, but their families, the volunteers, the staff of the center, and all of us that have witnessed the amazing benefit of therapeutic riding.”


Lt. Gov. Nungesser is a supporter of this therapy. In fact, next to his ranch in Port Sulphur, where he raises elk and cattle, he created the Pointe Celeste Therapeutic Riding Center.

“I believe in the power of horseback,” he said.

“The Greater New Orleans Therapeutic Riding Center is a huge asset to have in our community,” said David Fennelly, chairman of Associated Terminals, a cargo handling company out of Arabi. “The difference that the center makes in the lives of so many people is incredible, not only for the individuals that it directly serves, but their families, the volunteers, the staff of the center, and all of us that have witnessed the amazing benefit of therapeutic riding.”

Dow Chemical Company also regularly sends teams to volunteer at the farm and Shell Pipeline usually coordinates a project as part of its team training, where employees from all over the world are gathered for specialized training.

“[Dow] has had us on their list every two years for the last six years,” said Hartzell-Hefler. “Another company that has a volunteer committee is Valero St. Charles Refinery. Whenever we need help, we contact the committee. But there are several employees who will volunteer outside of the committee when we contact them. Valero is very adamant about community presence and support for nonprofits.”

As a volunteer at GNOTRC, Associated Terminals employee Laura Simmons has learned that a little of her time can make a big difference.

“Helping around the barn was therapeutic to me, knowing that my time was going to a good cause,” she said. “It brought me pure joy to see the smiles on the faces of those that go there for therapy. When they are on the horse and riding you can see the happiness on their faces and that is priceless.”

Success Stories

Aidan has cerebral palsy. He gets Botox shots to calm the activity in his brain and the therapy he receives at GNOTRC extends those benefits. “He meets so many people, adults, young people and teens,” says his mother. They all know him and are so happy to see him.” Aidan rides Bambi but really loves Festus the donkey, who the family calls the Shrek donkey.

Anna was born with developmental disabilities and a deformed hip. Riding has helped her with her posture and her balance. She can’t wait to go every week and gets very disappointed if she has to cancel because of rain or cold. Riding has helped her get over her fear of animals and she’ll ride any horse Anita puts her on.

Brian is 8 years old. He was born with Spina bifida and is paralyzed from the knees down. His parents were told he might never walk. He’s been riding for almost six years now. “Since starting he’s been able to use his walker more and his balance is much better,” says his mother, Gwen Morelo. Sometimes Brian can even walk without his “sticks,” which is what he calls his crutches. “I like the horses a lot and talking to all the people,” he says.


Greater New Orleans Therapeutic Riding Center

Mission: Dedicated to promoting equine activities for the disabled and providing individuals with physical, mental and emotional disabilities with the opportunity to enhance the quality of their lives through equine-oriented activities in a safe, professional and progressive environment.


Location: 152 Shadowbrook Ln., Laplace

Annual Budget: $92,000  

*Veterinarian bills make up at least one-third of GNOTRC’s budget, the rest goes to feed and hay and a small amount goes to staff.

Major Fundraising Event:


The Sunday before The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, this event features a motorcycle run, live music, raffle and an auction.
Fall Date T.B.D. Plop Drop. With a steep vet bill looming, GNOTRC needed some quick money so they came up with the wildly popular fundraising event, Plop Drop. “It was a quick, down and dirty way to make some money. The first year we sold out of tickets in three days,” says Anita Hefler, GNOTRC’s executive director. For this event the arena is divided into 400 segments and each square sells for $10. Twice during the event two “ploppers” are turned loose, and wherever they “drop” their “plop” the owner of the ticket for that square wins $1,000.


A Holiday Hayride. Christmas in the Crevasse is a 40-minute hayride through five acres of farmland with more than 80 stunning light displays and a telling of the Cajun Night Before Christmas. It starts on Thanksgiving Day. Admission is $3 for children ages 2 and under and $5 for ages 3 and up.