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Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center Unveils Hidden Potential as USEF/USPEA Para Dressage Center of Excellence

Part one in a series featuring the USEF/USPEA Para Dressage Centers of Excellence

by Dana Riddlemoser, US Equestrian Communications Department | Mar 19, 2019, 3:00 PM

Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center in Loxahatchee, Fla. Photo: Dana Riddlemoser

Susan Guinan’s first introduction to para dressage came unexpectedly one day in 2011. United States Para-Equestrian Association (USPEA) President Hope Hand pulled up to the Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center looking for a facility to host the U.S. Para Dressage Team as they prepared to qualify for the London 2012 Paralympics. Vinceremos welcomed them wholeheartedly, and this situation laid the groundwork for a continued commitment to U.S. para dressage.

Before the advent of the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival or Winter Equestrian Festival show grounds, Vinceremos already existed just outside Wellington, Fla. At the outset, founder Ruth Menor had no idea Vinceremos would end up nestled in the equestrian capital of the eastern U.S. Menor started Vinceremos 37 years ago as a therapeutic riding barn with one rider and one horse in a friend’s backyard. A recreational therapist by profession, she believed that if she could bring the healing power of horses to just one person, she could help change lives. Now, Vinceremos covers 15 acres and encompasses a covered arena and state-of-the-art barn.

“It’s a conscious decision that you want to grow, be at the forefront, and make a difference. We have made that conscious decision,” said Guinan, who serves as Vinceremos’s director of development. “There are so many aspects to the process of treating the whole patient [with a disability]. We’re treating the whole person. [To individuals] who aren’t meeting milestones, to those that are not walking or talking at age three, we use our ponies to give parents hope where the doctors and medical community have said, ‘Prepare yourself, your child may never speak or may be confined to a wheelchair.’”

Vinceremos offers year-round programs, including therapeutic riding, therapeutic driving, hippotherapy, and equine-assisted learning and psychotherapy. They coordinate with physicians, therapists, group homes, and school-based programs to serve children and adults with cognitive, physical, emotional, and psychological disabilities. When an individual arrives at Vinceremos, staff assess the student to understand their abilities, matching them with the right horse or pony to help them conquer the challenges associated with their disability.

According to Guinan, over the past year, the Vinceremos rider base has grown 67 percent. She credits this growth, in part, to recognizing an opportunity in the community to use horses to make a difference and to share the joy of horses with individuals who would not normally have the opportunity.

“The perception of people with disabilities is their inability to do things based on what we see. Horses don’t have that perception. We put that aside. We don’t see the disability. We see the capability and the potential going forward,” said Guinan. “We’re set up in a way that, regardless of the disability, we can help find your place and way. We change parents’ perspective of what their child can do, and that gives them and their child a better life. Their confidence is overwhelming after a lesson, and setting a goal and meeting a goal feels fabulous when it happens, regardless of what it is.”

Guinan and the full-time staff of six play a major role in running Vinceremos. However, they receive a huge base of support from trained volunteers, who help run a majority of the therapeutic programs. They serve as horse-leaders, side-walkers, lesson assistants, and they help with horse care. Vinceremos can have up to 80 volunteers a week. Last year, Vinceremos accounted for 21,000 volunteer hours, which, according to Guinan, equated to the work of 10 full-time employees.

Vinceremos: a USEF/USPEA Para Dressage Center of Excellence

In addition to their work as a therapeutic riding center, Vinceremos holds the USEF/USPEA Para Dressage Center of Excellence (COE) designation. As a facility that offered opportunities for students to participate in the Special Olympics, they wanted to develop a track for individuals without cognitive disabilities to reach whatever level they strived to obtain.

As a COE, they have dedicated themselves to growing para dressage sport. They host open houses to introduce the sport to potential athletes, as well as clinics and symposiums for trainers and coaches with an interest in expanding their skills to meet the needs of growing numbers of competitors. In early March, they hosted the USEF Para Dressage Coach Certificate Fast-Track Program, which brought several trainers from around the country to increase their para dressage coaching skillset. Both Guinan and colleague Michael Deluna participated in the program, which they aim to use to help bridge the gap between therapeutic riding and high-performance para dressage. Currently, they have two para dressage riders. One has been attending Vinceremos since she was eight years old and recently obtained her para dressage classification, all because they motivated her and showed her that the opportunity to compete in para dressage existed.

“In the past five months, we have been able to get her to sit like a dressage rider and got her classified,” said Deluna. “If I can do that with more riders, get them through their first show, give them the fundamentals, and pass them off to a more technical coach to further their careers, there is an avenue for that now, and it’s something we can cultivate. It’s awesome we have this program, and I hope to see it grow.”

Guinan believes the growth of para dressage begins at the bottom, and the Fast-Track program provides the resources to develop riders. They are not arriving as Vinceremos as elite riders, but they now have a well-rounded understanding of the steps to help them get there.

“We want our riders who have potential to go on,” said Guinan. “We have the [ability] to [inform] other centers about [the program], to create a pool of resources, and make [this] available for more people. It starts here; we have to give them the confidence and the independence to understand that they have the ability to try [para dressage],” said Guinan.

For more information about becoming a USEF/USPEA Para Dressage COE, contact Laureen Johnson at [email protected]. To learn more about Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center visit Vinceremos.org.

Stay up to date with U.S. para dressage by following USA Para Dressage on Facebook and US Equestrian on Twitter and Instagram.

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