Last week one of my horses, Expsychment, made his debut as a therapy animal. It was a win-win situation. The residents love him and I got to spend the day with him and still get paid. Dogs, and sometimes cats, are frequent visitors to rehab facilities. Some are certified therapy animals. I think half the therapy they provide is being warm, furry and loving. No one in the department owns a dog that could come visit but everyone knows about my horses. Most of the residents are of an age where they grew up around horses. Some rode them to school. Others knew them as working animals.
Once he got there, it took us a little while to figure out the most efficient way to get everyone to see him. We devised a system where we brought the residents to the patio outside the department. Everyone was given a piece of carrot and once they were in place, I brought him over. The PTA stood behind the residents to hand out more carrots. Both of us helped hold hands steady.
I don't know what was more amazing -- watching the residents' faces light up or watching Expsychment figure out what he was supposed to. He very carefully ate his carrots without using his teeth. Whenever he saw a hand, he turned his head in that direction. He didn't move too fast. He didn't scare anyone. A couple of them got his head in their laps. I thought that was pretty amazing for a horse used to being the center of attention.
We didn't get much therapy done with him. Instead we let the residents hang out on the patio as long as they wanted. The more "with-it" ones made sure the others got equal time in front with a carrot. Everyone watched out for everyone else. No one minded if someone got a little longer if they were really enjoying the time. I think we accomplished more letting everyone enjoy his visit than trying to brush or groom for therapeutic exercises.
I don't know if we'll repeat the visit. I hope so. Expsychment created much excitement. We could spread some hay around the patio so he would stay still for therapy purposes. Of course everyone else would be invited. I'll be sure to grab a chair next time and some bottled water next. I'm pretty sure he took a nap when he got back to his stall. I know I was exhausted when I got home.