Beatriz Berro Marins is introducing a new form of horseback riding therapy to low-income disabled people in Brazil, to improve their physical health, increase their independence and address social discrimination.
The New Idea
Beatriz Berro Marins is working to meet the physical and emotional needs of poor disabled youth in Brazil by introducing horseback riding therapy to the country for the first time. Challenging the physiotherapeutic model she studied in the U.S. and Europe, which focuses on the specific ailment rather than the whole person in their broader context, Beatriz has modified the approach. She uses horseback riding as a socializing force and a means for breaking down societal constraints and prejudices that often lead to the abandonment and neglect of disabled youth in Brazil.
Beatriz’ model for horseback therapy is an innovative form of treatment that uses the movement of the horse to improve motor skills and increase emotional independence through the exhilaration and feeling of accomplishment that comes from riding. She removes the handicapped person from the isolation of conventional therapies and through horseback riding, stimulates contact with a wide range of people and experiences which help handicapped people to develop self-confidence and recover their self-respect.
Furthermore, Beatriz succeeds in breaking down archaic social barriers when bringing disabled people, very often from low income families, to the recreation clubs of Rio de Janeiro’s wealthy elite who traditionally ignore the serious social ills around them. Today, Beatriz conducts her project at the Sociedade Hípica Brasileira (Brazilian Horseriding Club) and the Brazilian Jockey Club, having overcome much resistance based on discrimination against disabled persons. Her approach is unique because it combines a technique whose therapeutic benefits to people with various types of physical and mental disabilities have been established by research, with a socializing strategy for people with disabilities that also educates sectors of society about discrimination and neglect of disabled persons.
Current therapy treatments for mentally and physically disabled people in Brazil, if available, are often limited to in-hospital, routine and antiquated methods that can cause stress and regression in patients’ physical therapeutic process, without addressing serious issues of self-esteem and social isolation. Within a context where mental and physical disability is considered shameful
and often hidden from the public eye, the real opportunities for disabled people to receive treatment and achieve social integration are seriously limited. The problem is aggravated in low income populations where disabled people are saddled with the additional stigma of poverty. It is quite common to hear about disabled children who are left abandoned at home to be attended, if at all, only by their siblings.
Beatriz’s development of horseback riding therapy as a method for physical recuperation and social integration addresses the pervasive problem of neglect and discrimination against the disabled poor. She decided to devote herself to developing horseback riding therapy in Brazil after seeing the inadequate and often detrimental methods of therapy being employed during her 20 years of experience as an occupational therapist in public and private institutions. After receiving intensive training on the physiologically centered models of horseback riding therapy in the U.S. and Europe, Beatriz returned home to adapt the method. She has single-handedly pioneered the development of this therapy, which is based on the animal’s rhythmic movements which, by permitting a three-dimensional displacement of the person’s center of gravity, give disabled people better conditions to overcome their physical limitations. These movements help diminish spasms, work the muscles, improve overall posture, develop motor coordination and contribute to the socialization and self-confidence of the person. Since she began work in 1994, more than 250 handicapped adults and children have been attended and her projects has gained national recognition from universities and medical councils alike. In particular, the Conselho Federal de Medicina (Federal Council on Medicine) has officially recognized the benefits of riding therapy on the basis of Beatriz’ research and documentation.
To facilitate the consolidation and spread of her project, Beatriz founded the Sao Paulo Riding Therapy Association and established project activities in two prestigious clubs of Rio de Janeiro: The Brazilian Riding Club and the Brazilian Jockey Club. From this base, Beatriz is making great strides towards achieving her goal of establishing a riding therapy center in each Brazilian State. Her strategy increases awareness about her project among people of significant means, while she creates partnerships and sponsorships with professionals and educational institutions to help further her work.
Beatriz has received significant television and newspaper coverage for her work. She is also disseminating information to a wider public and has succeeded in her struggle to introduce riding therapy into a college curriculum; she now teaches a course in riding therapy to the students of Gama Filho University. Beatriz also employs the support of parents of her clients to spread her project. She created the Parents and Friends of Riding Therapy Association to consolidate a sponsor system, heighten awareness, drive a press strategy, and gain financial support for the project. In addition to approaching private donors in Brazil, Beatriz went to the US to receive certification for her work by the ASPCA in order to approach Ralston-Purina for corporate sponsorship.
In her strategy for expansion of the program to all Brazilian states, Beatriz has already launched an association of riding therapy in Brasilia and has plans to establish similar associations in other states besides the groups already established in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo, Porto Alegre and Curitiba. In each of these cities, Beatriz approaches horse owners and breeders and encourages them to donate time and animals to the program. She also identified the Military Federal Police, a mounted force that exists all over Brazil, as a potential source of donated horse time. She is currently working with their animals in São Paulo, and hopes to develop similar relationships in each state.
To facilitate the staffing of these centers Beatriz brings specialists to her center and trains them as interns to replicate the methodology elsewhere. She is also negotiating with municipal and state authorities in Rio to create a model center in a favela, with additional funds from foundations and businesses, that will facilitate the access of people from the outskirts of Rio. The quality of the service has helped riding therapy to gain in strength and prestige on a national level, and the demand for such a service has also increased.
Beatriz's idea reflects the convergence of the two passions in her life: her love of horses and her 20 years of experience in occupational therapy. From early in her childhood, Beatriz became interested in helping disabled people. There was a clinic across the street from her school, where disabled people would come and go to study. She felt that they were isolated and separated from people like herself, and resolved to address the issue. At that time, Beatriz, did not fully understand the lives and challenges facing disabled people, but her curiosity led her to discover more because she longed to help them overcome such limiting conditions.
Upon entering the university, Beatriz decided to enter the field of rehabilitation in order to provide new ways and better living conditions to disabled people, so that they could achieve greater social and financial independence, recover their self-respect, and overcome the stigma of prejudice and social marginalization. In 1991, she watched a girl with Celebral Palsy come alive while riding a horse, only to lapse back into a passive state when she dismounted. A lifetime rider herself, Beatriz had a moment of insight, and began to think seriously about how to break the monotonous cycle of traditional therapy by linking her major passions. She discovered that the work with horses was a more pleasant method of treatment because of the interaction it provides. She abandoned treatment in closed-in areas and devoted herself completely to riding therapy. For Beatriz the major objective is to integrate the patient into the environment, providing new forms of treatment and recreation and placing the patient in a situation of equality with so-called normal people.