Horses bring love and laughter to hospital patients
Horses bring love and laughter to hospital patients Patient Emily Pietsch spends time with Mystery one of two miniature horses from "Mane in Heaven" that made a visit to the pediatric unit at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago (AP photos)
Horses bring love and laughter to hospital patients
Lexile: 740L

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Two miniature horses recently trotted into a hospital. Sound like a joke. But it's true.

Doctors and patients did double-takes. The equine visitors ambled down corridors in the pediatric unit at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center. Wide-eyed youngsters stepped into hallways to get a glimpse. Kids too sick to leave their rooms beamed when the little horses showed up for some bedside nuzzling.

Mystery and Lunar are as small as big dogs. They are equines on a medical mission. They offer comfort, care and distraction therapy for ailing patients. It is a role often taken on by dogs in health care settings. Animal therapy, according to studies and anecdotal reports, may benefit patient's health. It might even speed healing and recovery.

Mini-horses add an extra element of delight. Many kids don't know they exist outside of fairy tales.

"I want one," said 14-year-old Elizabeth Duncan. She stroked Mystery's nose from her hospital bed.

These horses and two others belong to an animal-assisted therapy group. It's called Mane in Heaven. It's based in Lake in the Hills, near Chicago. The horses have visited nursing homes and centers for the disabled. This was their first-ever visit inside a hospital. It was also the first horse-therapy visit for Rush Medical Center. More are planned.

"We have [...] seen the enormous benefits that animals can have on most children," said Robyn Hart. She is the hospital's director of child life services.

Mini horses "are something that most people whether kids or adults have never seen before. And so that builds in a little more excitement and anticipation. They almost look like mythical animals, like they should have wings on," Hart said.

Some people confuse these horses with Shetland ponies. Minis are less stout, with a more horse-like build. The therapy they offer contrasts with the hospital environment. They bring soft ears to scratch, fluffy manes to caress, big soulful eyes to stare into.

"They're so nice and they don't judge and they're so sweet," said epilepsy patient Emily Pietsch, 17. She had gently traced Lunar's heart-shaped muzzle with her fingers.

The owner of the miniature horses and her horse helpers carry lots of hand sanitizer. They also have a pooper scooper. Even so, one of the horses pooped in a hallway during the Chicago hospital visit. But the volunteers cleaned it up in a flash.

The horses were "a smashing success," Hart said. "We're looking forward to having them visit monthly."

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  • ellie21-Bla
    12/18/2014 - 01:20 p.m.

    I think it is very sweet of the pony's to make people at the hospital happy . I bet it must be exiting and fun to have pony with you.

  • Tiffany0307-yyca
    12/18/2014 - 09:52 p.m.

    When I am sick, I would like to see horses too. Based on the article, I agree with Elizabeth Duncan. I want a horse but I live in an apartment. And an another reason why is because farmers usually have those kind of animals. Plus those animals can be noisy, even though you are kind of far from your neighbors. But those horses in the article sound very sweet. I would love to get one of those horses for my pet, even though I can't.

  • isabellao-Bla
    2/04/2015 - 08:31 p.m.

    This article was interesting to because it was a mini horse that came into the hospital and not a dog. When I am in the hospital they bring dogs and even when we stayed at the Ronald McDonald house they had a really big turtle come in. They really do help you forget that you don't feel good and make you feel better. I hope that next time I see Dr. Kogan that maybe I will get to see the horse.

  • mya18-Bla
    5/21/2015 - 01:10 p.m.

    That's SO sweet! If i was in the hospital i would like something like a horse to visit me!

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