The Osceola Equestrian Therapy Center, a partnership with the UCF College of Medicine, Osceola County and the McCormick Research Institute, was recently named a premier accredited center by the leading credentialing organization for equine-therapy facilities.
The recognition by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, International, means the center demonstrates the highest industry standards and makes it eligible to other research funding. Early research of the work being done with veterans and horses has already shown success in helping those with PTSD and movement disorders.
The center, the first of its type in the nation to be built from the ground up and the only one in the nation led with help from a medical school, has state-of-the-art facilities that include a covered ring, air-conditioned meeting rooms, and special grooming and tacking areas at Chisholm Park. The facility allows staff to provide therapy to veterans and others year-round.
Dr. Manette Monroe, a lifelong horsewoman and associate professor of pathology at UCF’s medical school, leads the research efforts on therapeutic benefits for veterans, as well as for autistic children, patients with movement disorders and physical challenges.
The center has helped more than 85 veterans since the partnership with UCF began in 2012. They include veterans such as Kelly Smith of St. Cloud, who was injured while serving in the Middle East. At first, she was skeptical about what horses could do for her.
“When I lost my arm (in combat) I had a pretty tough time of it,” Smith said. “It was not so much the loss of my arm, but it was more so having to get out so early in my career, adjusting to life back from tour and adjusting to my family and kids. I had a lot of attitude and anger-management problems.”
After two or three riding sessions, Smith said she and her family noticed a significant change in her mood.
“My anger just seemed to go away, without me even noticing it,” Smith said. “My husband and my kids made the comments about how much nicer I was to be around and how we could actually go in public and they didn’t have to worry about me getting into an argument or anything else.”
The therapy sessions have given her hope for a positive future, she said.
Cindy Burke, director of University of New Hampshire’s therapeutic-riding program, was the lead inspector during the PATH accreditation process. The inspectors grade therapy centers based on their ability to meet industry standards for health and safety, administration, welfare of the horses and more.
“I have been to many centers across the country and many of them are pretty impressive, but I have never seen anything on the same level,” Burke said. “It’s very progressive and it certainly sets the bar very high for me to find a center of this caliber elsewhere.”
For Monroe, the accreditation is affirmation of the work being done at the center.
“It is an external validation for the work that has gone into developing this state-of-the-art center,” Monroe said. “The goal for this facility is to reach out and do just as much good as we can. That’s really the bottom line for this, making a difference in people’s lives.”