The Trail to Success

Psychologist Helen Thompson Wooley once said, “In riding a horse, we borrow freedom.” After participating in equine assisted therapy, the students at Lakeland STAR Academy and School might argue that working with a horse creates freedom.

The goal of Lakeland STAR is to have students of all developmental levels thrive not only in the school environment, but in the community, and graduate with the academic and life skills necessary to become their personal best. That includes increased confidence, social skills and determination to move on to post-secondary education, gainful employment, living independently to the best of their ability and enjoying meaningful connections with others if they so desire. Sometimes, those others may be horses.


Equine assisted therapy is a form of experiential therapy that involves interactions between a person and a horse to promote physical, emotional, social and mental health. But it’s about more than simply riding – there’s a lot to learn before getting on a horse.

According to Lenelle Scholl, founder anddirector of Scholl Community Impact Group, a 501c3 nonprofit, in Winchester, Wisconsin, the very first thing equine assisted therapy students learn is the safety rules. Safety is important on the farm and when working with large animals. Once that’s achieved that, they’re assigned a horse. With the help of staff and ever-present volunteers, they learn the parts of the horse, how to groom the horse, how to bridle and saddle the horse and then how to mount and ride.

Each student learsn how to communicate with their horse. For some that might be asking the horse to back up. For others with fewer verbal skills, it might mean physically pushing on the horse. It’s up to them to find a way that works for them.

“These are huge animals, but they are very kind and very loving,” Lenelle said. “I swear that when a child needs something in a lesson, the horse knows. It’s amazing!”

Once they’ve masteredgrooming the horse, students can learn to ride. Some children are ready to hopon right away. For others, it takes a while to muster the courage.


One of Lenelle’s favorite stories about the bond that can develop between a child and a horse is about a non-verbal student who came to the farm when he was just 6 years old. Lenelle and her volunteers tried to introduce him to one of their horses, Roanie, but the student wasn’t interested. His mom later took him down to the pasture where he found a horseshoe. He tried to figure out where it belonged, decided it must be Roanie’s and laid it at the horse’s foot. With that, they were friends.

“The next week the boy was at the farm again, and Roaniewalked up to him and rested his head on the child’s head,” Lenelle shared. “Soon the boy began to ride. After a break of a coupleyears, that same boy came here with Lakeland STAR Academy. He and Roanie recognized each other and rekindled their friendship.”


The physical aspects of grooming and riding a horse have great benefits for the students. Hand-eye coordination, head, coreandupper-body strength and joint mobility all improve. Muscle groups the rider uses in walking, sitting and reaching are toned, stretched and strengthened. A non-verbal line of communication is createdbetween rider and horse which can lead to emerging speech. Overall communication improves and self-confidence soars.

The equine assisted therapy techniques used in the program help build self-confidence and respect. Students also learn to demonstrate responsibility, make positive choices and develop problem-solving skills. They expand their social skills through communication, trust andteamwork.

“Our volunteers are truly amazing,” Lenelle said. “They are dedicated to our mission of helping kids on the spectrum, and really embrace our philosophy that no matter how you look at it, we’re all connected.”


“The funding we receive from the Howard Young Foundation make this unique therapy and so much more possible,” said Eric Mikoleit, director of Lakeland STAR charter schools. “The ongoing support from the Foundation also helps with basic building costs, technology andpersonnel, including a newly hired board-certified behavior analyst who will be creating behavior intervention plans.”

Another item the Foundation helped with this year was the Practical Assessment Exploration System (PAES) Lab now available to the students at Lakeland STAR School/Academy, Lakeland Union High School andMiddle School. The students "go to work" each day at the PAES Lab in the Howard Young Medical Center, part of Ascension in Woodruff, Wisconsin. The PAES Lab is located within the hospital to give students an integratedwork experience. Thisis the first PAES lab in the United States to be locatedwithin the four walls of a business.

The high quality of unique programming and individualized education is a huge draw for parents with children with autism spectrum disorders and other special needs. Based on current enrollment and growing demand, Lakeland STAR will continue to grow, providing even more students a trail to success.

How you can support the Lakeland STAR charter schools and autism services in our community?

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