Seminarians volunteer at local therapeutic equestrian center

As any seasoned Roman Catholic priest will tell you, the role of spiritual leader in a community requires dedication, patience, and benevolence.  These characteristics are being exemplified by seminarians at Saint Joseph Seminary College who volunteer at the New Heights Therapeutic Riding Center in Folsom, Louisiana.

Each week, seminarians volunteer at the center, a nonprofit therapeutic equestrian center, in which horses help adults and children who have physical, cognitive, and emotional difficulties. Clients include those with traumatic brain injuries, victims of human trafficking and clients with PTSD.  Since horses are very responsive to human emotion and energy, the time spent at the riding center creates avenues for the clients’ physical and emotional development.

The visits are part of the seminary’s pastoral formation program, which sees different groups of seminarians take part in volunteer activities across the Northshore, including the Boys and Girls Club, Canon Hospice, Christwood Retirement Center, and many others.

The seminarians are taught how to lead the horses around the property, properly clean and brush them, as well as saddle them. Volunteers spend their time learning how best to help clients mount the horses and leading them through warm-up exercises before tackling the various obstacle courses on the property.

“New Heights was a wonderful experience for me because I fell in love with the people there. I was able to bring to the clients (and employees, too) my enthusiasm and fun-based personality,” said Brent Didier, who volunteered at New Heights last year.

The role horses play in the healing process is just as important as the relationship seminarians have with the clients, according to New Heights Executive director Krista Carpenter.

“Engaging the clients and building relationships is vital. Their time here at the riding center is often the only social activity clients participate in. We have to look at our volunteers as clients as well. The seminarians bring a joyful and fun spirit with them each week, and it really is an engaging experience for our clients. Their participation has been a blessing for us,” Carpenter said.

Riders enthusiastically respond to the seminarians as well.

“The clients look forward to the seminarians’ visits. They respond best to routine and repetition. We have several students come out. They just beam and run to the seminarians and hug them,” said Vicki Eiland, volunteer coordinator at the center.

“It's amazing how making the mental effort for just an hour and a half once per week will grow into an instinctual recognition without conscious effort. As anyone can guess, being aware of a person's needs plays a major role in the life of the priest. A priest should constantly be asking himself what the people of God, but specifically his parishioners need, in order not only to grow in holiness but also in their personal lives as well.” Didier said.

For more information on the New Heights Therapeutic Riding Center, visit