Grantee site visits in Puerto Rico: Part 1

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on June 26, 2019 # Mobility, Quality of Life

This past March, the Reeve Foundation’s Paralysis Resource Center (PRC) was invited to participate in the first Puerto Rico Abilities Fair. It was the perfect opportunity to outreach to the Puerto Rican and Caribbean communities and to visit some of our Quality of Life (QoL) grantees on the Island of Enchantment. As part of the oversight of our grants program, the PRC visits some of its grantees to assess progress and learn more about our grants’ impact in the disability community.

Our first stop was Equinoterapia Puerto Rico, a 2018 QoL grantee that provides therapeutic horseback riding to people living with disabilities. The founders, Carlos Mendez and Tania Meisner, welcomed us at their picturesque farm in the mountains of Trujillo Alto. There we met one of the program participants, a veteran living with multiple sclerosis, the horses, and volunteers. Reeve’s QoL grant funded a riding program for veterans living with paralysis.

Equinoterapia Puerto Rico, a PATH certified riding center, strives to provide a therapeutic and recreational center for residents in Puerto Rico. They take a multilevel approach, which includes education, community involvement, and mentoring of other riding programs in Puerto Rico. Since their inception, they've provided over 2,700 hours of therapy to 75 participants with the aid of 61 volunteers and ten horses. During our site visit, Telemundo showed up to cover Equinoterapia Puerto Rico’s services and success and I was interviewed about the PRC’s grant program which makes programs such as this one possible.

It is plain to see that both the providers and beneficiaries of the program are fully committed to the well-being of the participants and horses. A typical session includes education about the horse, time to bond with them, mounting and riding the horse, and at the end of the session, thanking the horse and reinforcing the connection between people and horses. Participants in the program also, to the extent of their abilities, help by brushing, walking with or socializing with the horses.

As we sat down after the session, in the outdoor waiting area, we could understand why this program is so vital that some of their beneficiaries would travel several hours to reach them. There is a sense of community, well-being, and camaraderie both inside and outside the riding ring. The benefits reach farther than the improvement of gross and fine motor function, we heard of improvements in relationships, mental health, and independence. Carlos told us that the horses were given positive names such as Sereno (Serene) and Esperanza (Hope) to set a calming tone and atmosphere.

Like almost everyone else in Puerto Rico, this organization felt the impact of Hurricane Maria. Thankfully, there was no loss of life or animals, but Maria destroyed one of their storage buildings and damaged part of a house on the farm. The program staff didn’t have access to the farm for over a week due to unpassable road conditions and lack of fuel to drive up the mountain to their location. Nevertheless, Equinoterapia Puerto Rico recovered quickly and continued to provide their much-needed services shortly after the hurricane.

This program is currently looking to expand and serve people in the underserved eastern side of the island in the former naval base of Roosevelt Roads. We are eagerly waiting to see how Equinoterapia Puerto Rico continues to grow and serve our community.

Stay tuned for the next stop: SER de Puerto Rico

By Patricia E. Correa, Associate Manager, Information Services and Translation

For more information on the PRC’s grant program, please visit www.ChristopherReeve.org/QOL.

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