Freedom Farm receives visit from World Class trainer

SUBMITTED PHOTO World class horse trainer Gustavo Dos Santos visited Freedom Farm recently.
World class horse trainer Gustavo Dos Santos visited Freedom Farm recently.

Freedom Farm was visited recently by Captain Gustavo Dos Santos, Minnesota-Uruguay Partners of the Americas A world-class horse trainer and equine therapy specialist found himself more than 6,000 miles from home this month, standing alongside Susie Bjorklund, the founder of Freedom Farm in Waverly, as two riders mounted up for a therapeutic riding lesson.

Captain Gustavo Dos Santos, from Uruguay, was a visitor and observer during a lesson for Lauren Wisegarver and Annika Koehler. Gustavo was able to share best practices with Susie and her staff.

Bjorklund said, “We found many similarities in our teaching methodology and the girls were thrilled to have a special visitor while demonstrating their riding skills.”

News of Freedom Farm’s innovative approaches to equine therapy brought Gustavo Dos Santos, a captain in Uruguay’s army, to Waverly and other horse facilities throughout Minnesota during the first two weeks of November. For 12 years, Freedom Farm has used horse therapy to improve mobility, build confidence and encourage personal growth in children and adults with physical, mental and emotional challenges.

Dos Santos was a trainer of Uruguay’s Paralympic team in China in 2008 and is currently a leader in his country’s 27 military-run horse therapy programs that treat more than 1,000 people across the progressive South American nation with physical disabilities, drug addictions, mental illness and other challenges.

Dos Santos was invited to Minnesota under a nearly 50-year partnership between the state and the nation of Uruguay. An outgrowth of the Kennedy Administration’s Alliance for Progress, Minnesota-Uruguay Partners of the Americas uses State Department funding and donations from members to bring professionals like Dos Santos across borders to share expertise and offer insights in a range of disciplines.Veterinary medicine, criminal justice reform, art and architecture and student exchanges are just a few of the group’s activities in recent years.

“The high caliber and diversity of Minnesota’s horse therapy programs was really an eye-opener for me,” said Erik Brand, a volunteer and president of Minnesota-Uruguay Partners, who helped coordinate the trip. “Freedom Farm is doing innovative things with returning war veterans that were of particular interest to Gustavo, so we were just delighted he was invited by Susie to spend time there.”

Elsewhere in the state, Dos Santos  visited horse facilities in Granite Falls, Independence, Minnetonka,Stillwater, and the University of Minnesota’s Equine Center. He also met specialists working with Hazelden and Park Avenue Center to learn about their approaches to equine therapy for drug addiction.

Lynn Baskfield, the founder of Wisdom Horse Coaching in Minneapolis and the host for Dos Santos during the visit, said she’d like to see Minnesotans going to Uruguay to learn more about the equine therapy programs there. Freedom Farm is a PATH International Premier Accredited Center and proud to be recognized as offering progressive programming in both their therapeutic riding program, and  ‘Healing with Horses’, a program for women veterans.