History of Vinceremos
by Karen Woods
The seed for Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center was planted in the 1960’s when Charlotte Smith took her 10 year old daughter, Ruth, to visit the Cheff Therapeutic Riding Center in Augusta, Michigan. Ruth went on to raise a blue ribbon cow in 4-H. After selling her champion cow, she used the proceeds to buy her first horse, Cinnamon. Cinnamon would go on to be one of the two horses to start Vinceremos.
Ruth graduated from Florida State University in 1981 with a degree in therapeutic recreation. She married Mike, her #1 supporter, in 1982. Seeing a need for therapeutic riding, Ruth began to do what was necessary to start a program. Father Daniel Barrett from the Church of the Holy Spirit in Lake Worth knew Ruth through college and helped her with the necessary paperwork to get started. Together they decided to name the program, Vinceremos, Latin for “to overcome”. Ruth started with two riders, Tommy Smith and Andrea Slager. Anthony Rizzo let Ruth use his backyard for two years. After a July 1982 article in the Palm Beach Post, the program grew to 6 riders, still using the Rizzo’s backyard way out in the boondocks west of 441.
Jeffery Perham was 10 years old when he started riding with Ruth. At this time Vinceremos offered lessons to able-bodied riders as well as the disabled. Jeffery rode in horse shows beside non-handicapped riders and was a regular “final cut” rider in many 4-H competions at the Posse Grounds. From the beginning, Vinceremos has shown others what a person with a handicapping condition “Can Do”. Trail rides during the early years were on the grounds that are now Wellington High School. Ruth held demonstrations for Special Olympics in the early years. Seeing the benefits from horseback riding, Special Olympics Florida added Equestrian Special Olympics to their program in “year”.
To see a young 21 year old woman so focused on what she wanted impressed the parents. Her knack for horses and how to “work them” to the advantage of making a difference in the lives of her equestrians was what kept students returning to her classes, some parents driving close to 100 miles round-trip! Riders only left, if they moved away. Ruth has always been blessed with gift of teaching and is very in-tune with her riders’ needs. In 1983 the first edition of “From the Horse’s Mouth” came out. That became a communication tool that continues today, informing the community and riders alike about what the center is doing. In October 1990 there were 1,678 names on the mailing list, 25 volunteers working 250 volunteer hours per week, 40 riders and 9 horses in the Vinceremos riding program!
Vinceremos moved to Lake Worth Road in 1984. A 7-stall barn from Donald Ross Road was disassembled and moved to the 20 acre property owned by the Catholic Church. The then Bishop Tom Daily came to observe the program. He was very impressed with what he saw. The program stayed on Lake Worth Road for 10 years where it continued to grow. An interesting side bar about that barn and re-assembly was that it was impossible for the nails to go in the exact same hole in the roofing. Therefore when it rained, everything got wet. Weekend “workouts” were scheduled. After a couple days of pouring tar on the roof, Don Perham had the barn waterproofed!
Two longtime Vinceremos equestrians, Christina Cooney and Matthew Browning started riding after the program moved to Lake Worth. Kathy LaCroix was added as an instructor as the program grew to 30 riders per week. Beverly Perham shuttled students from her son’s class at Lincoln Elementary to the facility for riding lessons. Riders came from Wellington High School, the ARC, the Palm Beach County Recreation after school program on grants in addition to the riders paying for their lessons. Vinceremos had a strong group of supporters in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Besides the family and friends who stood by Ruth and shared in her vision for Vinceremos were the Knights of Columbus, Zonta Club, Kiwanis, “The Town Crier”, Palm Beach Polo, Civitan Lake Worth, Purina, local TV stations, Deer Ridge Farm and Gulfstream Polo, helped in those early days.
In 1992 everyone had had enough of the rain and flooding at the Lake Worth Road barn. Vinceremos stayed at that location until 1994 while actively looking for a new property. The program moved to a barn off Pierson Road in Wellington, owned by Gene Mische, for a few months on the way to their current Loxahatchee location.
There were two barns on the Loxahatchee property. The upper barn was gutted to accommodate six horse stalls, a tack room, break room and office. Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center has grown to include a Hippotherapy Program (2004), Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy Program (2006) Horses for Heroes Program (2007) and carriage driving (2011). It was in Loxahatchee, with fresh memories of all the rain on Lake Worth Road, that “Cover Our Kids” Campaign was inaugurated in 2006 and became a reality (2012). The completion of the covered arena has opened up many new opportunities, i.e. housing international Paralympic teams during recent 2012 competitions in the area, site for Special Olympics and other competitions, ability to conduct multiple classes in the same time slot and the addition of evening classes to the schedule.
In 1992 Mr. Harry White underwrote the expenses for a cocktail party for 150 guests to make the plea for the New Farm Fund. Ibbie Jo Shames, the Grande Dame of Vinceremos, was a board member and tremendous supporter through the years. The barn is a “tribute” to her fond memory.
Vinceremos continues to have community-wide support. World class equestrians serve on their board and others are always in attendance at the annual auction, where they take time to talk with the athletes and take pictures with them. The organization continues to build on the foundation of support they have had from the beginning. Grants are still applied for, annual auctions are held, ride-a-thons are conducted, interviews are given and horse shows are held, all of which help with the expenses of a farm.
Vinceremos has come a long way from its humble beginning. From a backyard to leased acreage where rain was in the “almost” daily weather forecast, the center now has a covered arena with 45,500 square feet under a roof. Starting with just two students, Vinceremos now works with upwards of 140 riders each week. Thousands of riders have had the opportunity to ride at Vinceremos since the beginning. There were two horses in the beginning and now there are 23 horses in the program, all sponsored annually by generous donors. Through the years, one thing has stayed constant at Vinceremos, i.e. Ruth Menor. In November 1989 it was Ruth’s dream to have a 20-30 stall barn with living quarters, two outdoor arenas and a covered arena. At this time the committee members were also challenged to expand the sphere of influence by referring new persons to the center who in turn would tell others. The program has continued to grow and move forward to fulfill Ruth’s dream and make it the new reality.
Volunteers have always been an integral part of the program. As the program has grown, student-wise and horse-wise, so has the need for volunteers. There is a volunteer coordinator presently scheduling dozens of volunteers to help with all aspects of the classes and barn chores. Several Special Olympians have been groomed to volunteer alongside their able-bodied peers; two are there daily to do regular chores and assist wherever needed. Just like the early volunteers, they are wonderful, warm-hearted, animal-loving and people-loving individuals and without them it would be impossible to have this program.
Two eyewitnesses, Charlotte (“Chickey”) Smith and Beverly Perham, were generous with their time to put this history of Vinceremos (Latin for “to overcome”) down on paper. From the beginning, Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center like its clients has had “to overcome” a variety of challenges to evolve into the program it is now and take it to what it will be in the future.