In New York, Carrie Brady of Possibilities Farm has two mini therapy horses in her herd—Paddington and Moon. Paddington once went to a hospital to visit a patient with a rare condition requiring abdominal surgery. Although the individual enjoyed her therapy dog visit, she was an equestrian. A relative thought a horse would help her during her recovery, so they called Brady. The staff told the patients there was a surprise downstairs, but they weren't expecting a miniature horse.
“People respond with surprise, delight and wonder, which alleviates stress,” Brady said. “No matter where they are and who they are with, the minis are incredibly attentive to the people they meet. That’s because, unlike dogs and cats, horses are prey animals, so they are fully present and tuned in to you.”
Most people have never seen a miniature horse and even if they have, they don't expect to see one out and about. Everyone seems to go back to being a thrilled child with the mini horses, no matter their age. And folks especially enjoy being around a pint-sized horse.
Another advantage—minis have a longer lifespan than dogs. Miniature horses can live up to 30 or more years, according to Lisa Moad, the founder of Seven Oaks Farm Miniature Therapy Horses in Ohio.
“Horses are also able to feel emotions of the people that they are visiting and react appropriately to that emotion,”Moad said. “We find, especially with the older population we work with, that while they don’t have a short-term memory, their long-term memory is still present. And they have very clear memories of growing up having a horse or a mule or a donkey.”
Allergies to any animal are a possibility, but not all sensitivities are equal. People allergic to dogs or might not be bothered by horses, which creates opportunities to experience the benefits of being around animals.
Editor's note: Anyone interested in working with mini therapy horses should volunteer at reputable facilities to "learn the ropes" and get training for themselves and their horses before embarking on the mission of providing therapy services. If you need a therapy horse yourself, make sure to work with your veterinarian to ensure the horse's physical and mental needs are met.