Horses bring love and laughter to hospital patients
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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."