Equine Therapy

Little Horses, Big Love

Photo by Kendra Gale

When you grow up around horses, you know how simply being in their company can provide comfort. It is part of what draws us to horses to begin with…and part of what keeps us with them throughout a lifetime. Today, of course, the field of equine-assisted therapy means that more people outside of equestrian circles are experiencing the support and friendship as horse can offer. In particular, Miniature Horses are proving a particularly wonderful addition to conventional “pet therapy,” and as Miniature Horse breeder and trainer Kendra Gale explains in this excerpt from The Big Book of Miniature Horses, they can bring a lot of love to those who need it most.

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Miniature Horses are uniquely suited to many aspects of pet therapy, with their small size allowing them access to places that regular horses simply couldn’t go. The temperament of a Miniature is smart and curious, and like all horses, they are highly intuitive, seeming to just “know” when they need to be extra gentle with those around them.

At the Shepard’s Care Kensington Campus, in Edmonton, Alberta, Miniature Horses are involved in a unique program. As an “aging in place” facility, Kensington is home to 600 residents, and offers every form of housing, from independent apartments to assisted living and long-term care. The beautiful and spacious courtyard at the center of the facility is home to fountains, trees, flowers, and vegetable gardens, and the winding pathways take you to a small barn and paddock where residents can visit Miniature Horses.

Photo by Kendra Gale

The vision and dedication of Dan Bisson, Recreation Manager at Kensington, was the driving force behind this unique program first established in 2010. Throughout the summer months, two Miniature Horses live on campus for two-week intervals, and Dan says there have been three major benefits for the residents of Kensington.

First, it gets more people outside and into the courtyard. The day I visited, as soon as the horses arrived for another two-week stay, residents—who must have been watching from windows awaiting the horses’ arrival—appeared with bags of carrots. Several residents told me they come every day to see the horses; another that he checks on them every night before bed.

The second benefit that quickly became obvious was that the residents received more visitors during the times that the horses were on site, and they were able to share the enjoyment with their children and grandchildren. And the third benefit that Dan outlined was they were able take the horses inside the building to visit residents who aren’t mobile, giving everyone the opportunity to enjoy and interact with the horses, an activity that wouldn’t be possible with a regular-sized horse. Residents who can’t go outside enjoy watching them from their window, and many make a point of checking on them regularly.

The horses involved in this exceptional program usually live at Hollyhock Meadow, a Miniature Horse farm not far from the city, with owners Peter and Terry Holt. Peter and Terry are dedicated to sharing their horses with others, and spend their summers with a steady stream of pet-therapy commitments, both taking their horses to visit others, and having groups tour the farm.

Photo by Kendra Gale

The groups are mostly from seniors’ care homes, but they also work with people with Down syndrome and children with special needs. There are endless stories about reactions from people who haven’t responded to anything in years, ranging from the big smile from petting a horse, to a child that is never still, sitting quietly and enjoying a ride in a cart behind a calm and experienced Miniature Horse.

If your interest is in pet therapy and sharing your horses with others, you’ll need a horse that shares it. Based on Peter and Terry’s experience, horses that are too quiet don’t make the best choice because they are less likely to engage and interact with people. A Miniature Horse with a natural curiosity that is bold and brave enough to enjoy new things and going to new places is ideal.

There are so many ways that you can share a Miniature Horse and make people smile.

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This excerpt from The Big Book of Miniature Horses by Kendra Gale was reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books.

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