They are barely taller than a Great Dane and weigh an average of 225 pounds, but the benefits they provide are beyond measure. Miniature horses are becoming more widely used in animal-therapy programs across the United States and Europe.
Miniature horses are a unique way to provide animal-therapy to those who need it most. In addition, dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, goats, llamas, alpacas, pigs, and even rats have been visiting hospitals and other facilities improving patient outcomes.
Unlike a typical therapy horse, miniature therapy horses, due to their small size, can travel to visit hospitals, grief or therapy centers, specialty hospitals, assisted-living facilities, nursing homes, veteran centers, Alzheimer units and rehabilitation centers, to name a few. Miniature horses can be walked into a facility inches away from a chair or bed allowing for direct contact and interaction without compromising safety. The horses are trained extensively to provide comfort and healing to those in need, much like traditional therapy dogs.
In what was originally called the Delta Society formed in Portland, Oregon in 1977 by veterinarians and psychologists, came to be known as Pet Partners in 2012. The Pet Partners program has spearheaded animal therapy efforts and research recognizing the human-animal bond. Educating the public, training animals and handlers and ensuring a broad community reach is what drives the program.
“In an age of research when it is tempting to reduce emotions to biochemical reactions and to rely heavily on the technology of medicine, it is refreshing to find that a person’s health and well-being may be improved by prescribing contact with other living things.” Says, Michael J. McCulloch, MD the co-founder of Pet Partners. Today, the Pet Partners program is still growing and has over 15,000 animal therapy teams throughout the United States. Several sources of research supporting the claims about animal therapy can be found on the program’s website at https://petpartners.org/learn/benefits-human-animal-bond/.
A visit from a miniature horse sparks conversation, excitement and gives seniors a few minutes to be present while petting the horses, taking photos or just chatting with the handlers. This seemingly small interaction is enough to improve the mood of many seniors who forget about loneliness, depression, anxiety, pain or other health issues they may be experiencing in that moment. Due to their small stature, miniature therapy horses are easy to touch, brush or pet by someone who is confined to a wheelchair or a bed.
Not only do encounters with miniature horses help seniors with their ability to interact and connect, they can also ignite their senses and tactile responses. Motor, sensory and emotional responses can be inspired by the presence of miniature horses. In addition to seniors, individuals with mental and physical disabilities of all ages can be positively affected by these tiny horses with big hearts.
Miniature horses seem to benefit the wellbeing of everyone involved including the handler, the facility staff and the patient or resident. Imagine being visited by miniature horses during a long-work day at a hospital – a welcome break from the daily routine. As a patient or resident, a visit from these therapy horses can provide a welcome distraction from pain, loneliness or boredom. To brighten the day of others with a visit from a therapy horse undoubtedly brings joy to the horse handler as well.
To find out if a therapy group is in your area, search “miniature therapy horse” online for related results. In the United States you can search online or search the database on Pet Partners at https://petpartners.org/volunteer/community-partners/community-partners-directory/.