Therapy horses come in all sizes. In this series of articles, we are focusing on the use of Miniature Horses as therapy animals. If you have an interest in working with mini therapy horses, volunteer with folks who are already providing these services to learn as much as you can about what you and your horses need to be able to do to assist people of all ages and circumstances.
Possibilities Farm owner Carrie Brady specializes in equine assisted learning, which for her includes partnering with two miniature therapy horses. Before bringing new minis into the herd, she uses a “job interview” to make sure the horse will enjoy the type of work.
“One test I always use is seeing if they will walk away from their herds and to me without much hesitation,” said Brady.
She also tests their level of reactivity versus curiosity. Her therapy minis Paddington and Moon make site visits, so it’s impossible to expose them to everything they will encounter off the farm. Her training approach focuses on encouraging curiosity. At home, she gets the minis to touch and explore all sorts of new things.
“It is better to start with a horse that naturally has that tendency if I am going to ask him to regularly face new situations,” she said.
Temperament and size are often are important. Smaller minis can be less intimidating to children, and taller horses are better suited for hospital and nursing home visits where elevated beds are common. The most important factor to consider is your level of commitment to the individual horse.
You as the owner must be just crazy about that horse, emphasized Lisa Moad, the founder of Seven Oaks Farm Miniature Therapy Horses in Ohio. The farm specializes in training handlers and trainers to deliver high-quality therapy services in partnership with minis.
“You must be able and willing to spend all the time needed to train a horse to be a well-trained therapy horse,” Moad said. “I find if people have a horse that they’re not crazy in love with, or if they don’t have a real connection to it, over time the training tends to dwindle off. Then the horse ends up not making it through our program or the trainer decides they’re not going to do it anymore.”