Mini horses comfort, bring smiles to seniors

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

RALEIGH, North Carolina (WTVD) -- We all know of the benefits therapy dogs can offer. Petting a dog can be relaxing and provide physical and emotional benefits.

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The same can be said for other animals, including horses.

On Monday morning, three miniature horses from the Shepherd Youth Ranch in Creedmoor were brought over to spend time with the seniors at The Cardinal at North Hills retirement community in Raleigh.

Petting horses can be therapeutic.

Macaroni, Little Puff and Coco, all 5 years old, socialized with the Cardinal residents and brought lots of happiness and smiles. This visit was part of the Shepherd Youth Ranch outreach program. The non-profit rescues horses and unites them with families who have experienced trauma.

"They can really get in tune with how we're feeling even if we don't know how we're feeling and for the folks here at the Cardinal, it's very therapeutic for them to be able to rhythmically touch these small horses and pet them," said Ashley Boswell, the founder of Shepherd Youth Ranch. "The horses can sense if they're feeling calm or maybe even if they're agitated, and the horses can bring some calmness and peace to the people here."

A horse named Macaroni is one of three therapy equines that entertained the seniors.

Boswell, who has a Masters in Counseling from Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, said horses when paired with people will get in tune with their heart rate and vice versa. She said when the horse is calm and it is paired with someone who has an accelerated heart rate, the electromagnetic field around the horse will calm the person.

"When residents engage the animals, we see an immediate shift in their moods."

"When residents engage the animals, we see an immediate shift in their moods. As soon as they see the dogs with wagging tails, their spirits rise and their sense of well-being improves," said Susan Drury-Rohner, the Wellness Director at the Cardinal.

Drury-Rohner added: "For residents who cannot commit to having a full-time pet, this gives them an opportunity to interact with animals, which provides a different type of companionship than they get from interaction with friends and family. These visits encourage communication and improve social skills among the residents as well. They are able to reminisce about their previous pets and share stories. There are so many benefits that the residents experience, which is why we make a point to schedule them each week or sometime twice a week. These visits are very important to our residents."