ORLANDO, Fla. – Surrounded by nature just outside Orlando is a unique equestrian center that's providing assisted therapy and activities to children with special needs, underprivileged kids and very soon, to veterans and first responders.
The program is called Chasing Dreams and began at the equestrian center founded by two local women who have a passion for horses and helping their community.
It's changed the lives of Central Florida children living with various needs, including Christina Soberón-Llort's 5-year-old son, who has autism.
"He's able to express himself a lot better than he was before we started and you definitely feel like his receptive language skills are very much improved," Soberón-Llort said.
Soberón-Llort said that since her son started riding horses, things seem to be easier for him.
She said she's thankful to have found the therapy for her son at such a young age.
"They're amazing because they take kids as young as 4, and I think that the biggest differences you see in terms of how effective therapies are for kids with autism in the younger you start, the greater chance of improvement," Soberón-Llort said.
But the Chasing Dreams Equestrian Center in Orlando, is also getting results for families who struggle in different ways.
"We wanna bring equine activities for children with special needs, underprivileged youth, kids who don't have an opportunity normally to participate in equine activities," Audra Rosson, the co-founder of the organization, said.
Sally Cole, who is also a co-founder, said it helps children by building their confidence.
"You're sitting on the back of a 1,000-pound animal and you are telling it what to do and I teach my kids that we have to be kind and respectful to the animal and sensitive to their needs," Cole said. "It helps open them up ... the warmth of the horse relaxes spastic muscles. It helps with muscle strength. We do a lot of leg exercises called 2 point and rising at the trot."
Rosson said it's not meant to fix various issues, but instead helps people live with them.
"Is it a cure? Absolutely not, but it's a therapy that helps. Equine-assisted activities -- horses in and of themselves -- have such a benefit to children who deal with anxiety, depression," Rosson said.
According to Cole, the organization is always looking for extra hands.
"We would love to have more volunteers out here," Cole said. "If you have a passion for horses or children -- just want to be outdoors with animals -- we'd love to have you."
For Laurie Connell, it's been about the special relationship her son's created with a horse named Lily.
"I think the horses know they're serving a purpose and these children are special needs. Just the bond that my child has with the horses is just amazing. He looks forward to coming out here every week."
Connell said she's happy to be a part of the organization because she knows none of those opportunities would be possible for her son and other children if it weren't for Chasing Dreams.
The equestrian center is hosting a fundraising event in Apopka, where they'll have a former police officer lead a workshop for anyone interested in knowing how to groom a horse, how to work on the shoulder and hip control while riding a horse and how to stay safe out on a trail in case someone is approached by a stranger and feel threatened.
For information on how to register, visit ChasingDreamsEquestrianCenter.com.