They’re so small, people are amazed they’re real.
Wendy is so miniature, when she visits elderly residents at physical-therapy rehabilitation centers like Covenant Village in Hamilton County’s Green Township, she doesn’t go into patients’ rooms. That’s because she can’t reach the tops of their mattresses to nuzzle them, the way taller ones like Annabelle from Seven Oaks Farm in Ross Township can.
The world knows all about therapy dogs, but these tiny horses surprise people daily. Wendy weighs about 80 pounds and was 24 inches tall at the shoulder last time she was measured. Annabelle is about 100 pounds and 29 inches high.
Their size makes them seem magical — all the more so because their tininess lets them visit bedridden senior citizens like no full-sized horse could.
“The residents really connect with animals,” said Karen Siemer, activity director at Covenant Village, “so I’ve been trying to bring the most unusual animals into the building. And when I heard about this, it’s like I went crazy.”
The center has hosted reindeer, plus yearly penguin visits from Newport Aquarium, but it’s hard to match the success of the mini horses, she said. The delighted faces of elderly residents affirmed that.
“I enjoy it thoroughly,” said Marge Berning of Western Hills after she and more than a dozen elderly residents — some with their grandchildren present — spent joyful moments with the tiny creatures that look like scaled-down versions of full-sized horses.
“I didn’t know till I came here they had horses this little,” Berning said.
‘When are they coming?’
Although Siemer adores animals, she figured residents’ excitement would fade after several monthly visits. Instead, “They trip over each other to get down here now,” and residents clamor to know, “When are they coming? When are they coming?”
“Each time they come, we all love them more, because we’ve gotten to know the handlers now,” Siemer said. Unlike some guests, the handlers never check their watches, she said: “They will, no matter how long, go to the bedside of somebody.”
Lisa Moad owns 40-acre Seven Oaks Farm in Ross with her husband, Dr. John Moad, a dermapathologist in Dayton. Her Seven Oaks Farm Miniature Therapy Horses recently became a non-profit organization, and it accepts donations for its visits. Of the 32 horses she has rescued, 15 are trained to make therapy visits, which happen daily.
Moad visits about 20 nursing homes a month with her daughter-in-law, Kate Moad, or the other handler, Shelby Reynolds. They also work with police in Cincinnati and Hamilton on events.
“The amazing thing they will do for us is anyone that’s under hospice, anybody that’s totally bedridden, and we have a ton of people, she will take the horses up to their bedside,” Siemer said. “And the horse will like nuzzle up to the person in the bed. It’s amazing.”
One resident “wanted to come here for rehab because she heard the horses would be here,” Siemer said.
The organization just learned it will be an equine unit in the 2o17 Pasadena Tournament of Roses parade Jan. 2, with probably eight horses.
The horses will be driven to California, skipping airports. But they are familiar with airports.
“We go through and we meet passengers as they’re coming through and coming off of planes,” Moad said. “ CVG asks us to come in, just because of the stresses people have with flying, being nervous, or your flight’s late or has been canceled.”
“You can see them coming off, and they’ve got a blank stare on their face, and as soon as they see the horses, they smile, and they want to come up and pet the horses,” Moad said. “It’s been very well-received there.”
Horse days at Covenant Village also make visits with grandparents big with their grandkids.
“Now, the residents bring their grandchildren in, which they don’t get to see their grandchildren that much,” Siemer said. “So it’s nice to see the seniors interacting with the kids.”
Berning let out a laugh as horses and handlers spent time wandering among mostly wheelchair-bound residents in the center’s lobby.
“Now that the kids are out of school, we’ve really got a houseful here,” she said.
Berning as a 3-year-old was “on a pony at a fair that ran away with me, and I was scared of horses ever since,” she said.
But these ones create no fear in her, only happiness: “I never dreamed that they came that small,” Berning said.
They were a surprise about six years ago to Lisa Moad, who grew up on a farm. She and a son visited a horse show near Columbus, “and I came home with two miniature horses.”
“It’s genetic breeding, just like you’ve got miniature schnauzers or other kinds of breeds,” Moad said. “They’ve taken the horses, probably using the Shetlands, or using a pony, have bred them down until they get to the size.”
At birth, “the average miniature horse is probably around 20 pounds,” Moad said. “In height, they’re 18-20 inches, somewhere in there. When they’re born, they have a longer, fuzzier hair, and they look like stuffed animals. And they immediately are getting up, they’re running around with mom, they’re nursing, trying to do whatever mom does. If she’s eating hay, they’re trying to mimic mom and eat hay.”
The charity has the catchline, “Horses Helping People. People Helping Horses,” and trains and sells horses to other horse-therapy groups. It is booked for some dates into 2017 already.
“I think they’re great,” said Covenant Village resident Michael Hansen of Jersey City, N.J. “They represent good fun, and I think they’d make good pets.”
Some Alzheimer’s patients don’t remember much, Siemer said, but the horses illuminate their faces with recognition.
“It’s kind of a secret, but they’re getting to be known now,” Siemer said. “I just want to get my dates for next year. I hope I can keep this up. I look forward to it as much as the residents do.”
Moad says she has one of the world’s best jobs because, “People love to see us coming.”
To contact the organization, go to www.therapyhorses.com, call 937-231-5605 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.