Hélène Caron is the heart and soul of La Remontée centre d’équithérapie, a unique equine therapy centre in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli. Caron has two great passions in life: horses (an interest she inherited from her grandfather) and helping people with disabilities. In 1989, after completing a training internship in France, she decided she wanted to combine her two interests and open an equestrian centre for children and seniors living with conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and impaired motor skills—the first of its kind in Quebec!

In 1999, drawing on her training in special education and therapeutic riding instruction and assisted by a team of therapists and professionals from the La Pocatière campus of the Institut de technologie agro-alimentaire, Caron helped found a first-of-its-kind training program in therapeutic riding and began providing her services at local stables. She also became a founding member of the Fédération québécoise d’équitation thérapeutique. Impressive!

In 2006, she founded La Remontée, a social economy enterprise, with the support of generous donors and sponsors who shared Caron’s desire to open a dedicated facility. In 2010, they found the perfect site just off the 132 in Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, between the Saint Lawrence and Trois-Saumons rivers. Little by little, the facility began to take shape: a stable, a heated indoor riding ring, a tack room, an outdoor riding ring and a lounge area—all of it wheelchair accessible.

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Inspired by innovation

Caron is both bold and tenacious, qualities she demonstrates by offering ultra-inclusive day camps that accept children with and without disabilities, a social riding program that in 2012 was awarded the À part entière prize by the Office des personnes handicapées du Québec and the Medal of the National Assembly. In addition, for the first time in Quebec, wheelchair users can enjoy horse and buggy rides in an adapted carriage. They can also take equestrian vaulting classes. At La Remontée, there are no limitations! In 2018, after much research and with the help of her indispensable cabinetmaker spouse, Caron set up a multisensory riding trail to complement her centre’s activities and maximize the skills development of all her clients living with physical or psychological disorders or disabilities.

But there is still a lot of work to be done: maintaining the centre, reaching clients outside the region, planning weekly and winter activities, planning for the centre’s future. Financing is still an important issue. “I’m still fighting every day,” Caron said. While the centre is recognized and accredited by the Ministère de la Santé et des Services Sociaux, which means that it is eligible to receive grants, the funds are not enough to make ends meet. Éloi Gagnon, the chair of the board of directors, is a young and energetic entrepreneur. He suggested reaching out to the Centre d’aide aux entreprises de Montmagny-l’Islet, which had helped him get his own business off the ground. A solid financing and coaching relationship developed between the riding centre and the CAE, particularly in the area of communications. Financial assistance from the CAE allowed the centre to hire a specialized firm to advertise the centre’s services and optimize the centre’s potential. “Working with the CAE is pleasant, easy and efficient,” said Caron. And for the manager and board of directors of La Remontée—who had always been used to paying their bills in cash—having working capital to cover regular operating expenses and give them room to manoeuvre is an important step in the centre’s development.

The results: La Remontée created nine full-time and seasonal jobs for local residents and now counts 60 volunteers. The team welcomes and coaches over 215 people per year, but more importantly, they give their clients the hope of living life to the fullest.

Hélène Caron is modest about her accomplishments: “This exceptional equestrian centre was built by a team that is passionate about our cause, about our clients and about our horses. Without the assistance of our generous donors and the steadfast support of sponsors and volunteers, all this would only be a dream.” But anyone who visits the centre will tell you that without this visionary leader, there wouldn’t have been a dream at all.