UCF’s College of Medicine is partnering up with Osceola County to bring veterans an equestrian center for rehabilitation purposes.

This project is headed by the College of Medicine’s Dr. Manette Monroe, who is an avid horse lover herself.

“I’ve been riding my whole life and used to be a professional rider,” Monroe said. “I’m a lifelong horse person and, to me, it seemed like the perfect combination to bring together, between my passion for riding and horses, teacher since the ‘80s and as a physician.”

Monroe said that she is lucky only because “luck is when opportunity meets preparations.”

Currently, the project is simply an idea that has high hopes to become a reality.

“We’re in the beginning stages of all of this, building our coalitions, getting all of the stakeholders together, funding and land,” Monroe said. “We want this to be successful, a long-term thing that not is just driven by one person; that everyone comes together and keeps this going, so we can eventually get to the point where everybody in this Central Florida area who can benefit from equine therapy will be able to have access to a center near their home.”

In the state of Florida, there are six equestrian centers that offer a program for veterans and only 90 equestrian centers across the country.

Monroe hopes to collaborate with other centers like Freedom Ride in Orlando and their current partner, Heavenly Hoofs in Kissimmee, which has been in business as a small non-profit locally for 10 years next year.

“We’re super excited about it,” Abby Horner, Heavenly Hoofs’ operations manager, said. “The idea of being able to partner with the UCF College of Medicine is very, very exciting for us and were looking forward to it.”

Monroe said that the UCF medical school will be offering an elective course in Fall 2012 for students who have yet to be named, but it will teach the students interpersonal communication to individuals and families, and to medical, corporate and community groups.

Stanford University already offers the class and has been featured in the media for its accomplishments and success with the course.

Stanford’s Dr. Beverly Kane, whom Monroe admires for her hard work and passion for horses, started the course.

Heavenly Hoofs plans to offer a Horses for Heroes program that will provide therapy to veterans and active military who have sustained physical injuries or combat trauma during their time serving the United States Military.

Freedom Ride currently offers therapeutic riding for people with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, car accident victims and autism, but does not offer opportunities for veterans just yet. The center has been researching and has hopes to expand their current center to offer more opportunities that will benefit in the long run.

Freedom Ride’s executive director, Marianne Gray, has recently signed on to the position and hopes to find more backers to help them expand. Gray believes that horseback riding allows the rider to evolve from a follower to a leader.

“Anytime you’re working with animals, it’s a huge plus,” Gray said. “Regardless of your disability, even if you’re not disabled, working around animals there’s this unspoken spirit about them. These animals are so huge and powerful, and to watch them be so gentle is amazing.”

The veterans will come from the V.A. hospital that is currently under construction at the medical city in Lake Nona.

Osceola County is planning to not only donate money but land, as well, for the center. A location has yet to be determined, even though organizers have already looked at a few locations.

Source: Central Florida Future, Healing with horse power, UCF partnership benefits veterans, by Amy Foist, contributing writer. Published: Wednesday, September 14, 2011;  Updated: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 17:09