A miniature horse wearing pink shoes and a tutu walks into a library. No, it’s not a joke, though it is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. Through the Mobile Minis outreach of Newton, Pennsylvania, miniature horses are spreading joy and cuteness to everyone they meet.
Linda Vataha created the nonprofit program in 2014 while living in Arizona. What began as a single visit to an assisted living home for a resident’s 90th birthday grew into a program that is booked out months in advance for visits to memory care units, shelters, schools, a daycare for young adults with disabilities, and anywhere a little extra joy is needed.
Vataha has loved horses since childhood and began rescuing minis in 2014. While still living in Arizona, she had 17 rescued miniature horses and donkeys. After being rehabilitated, some were adopted out as pets and others went on to do pet therapy.
“I have different people groom them, spend time with them, walk, and socialize with them. It helps [the horses] learn to love and trust more people, and then they forget they ever came from a bad place,” says Vataha.
Of the seven minis Vataha brought with her to Pennsylvania, three are rescues and four were donated.
The Mobile Minis equine members travel in style to their destinations in a customized van complete with rubber flooring, insulated walls, and an air conditioner. Once they arrive, the lucky recipients of a visit get to pet, groom, and sometimes even lead the horses around with the help of a volunteer. The tiny equines also make room visits to individuals who are unable to participate in the group activities.
“Not only do the people we visit benefit from the effects of interactions with our minis, but the staff, nurses, teachers, employees, and even our volunteers benefit! It is a win-win all the way around,” says Vataha.
The comfort of the horses is a top priority, so visits are limited to one hour and volunteers are trained to notice any signs of stress in the minis. Volunteers are crucial to the program, helping to rehabilitate rescues and assisting with the visits. Vataha is currently rebuilding her volunteer team after her recent move to Pennsylvania, but in Arizona, more than 100 volunteers helped with the outreach.
Vataha also created a second program called “Mini Tales” after she noticed how children enjoyed reading to the minis. Children sign up for sessions at Vataha’s barn, where they can choose from a variety of books to read to horses and volunteers. At the end of the session, each child receives a bookmark with a picture of one of the minis on it.
It may seem impossible for miniature horses to get any more adorable than they naturally are, but the Mobile Minis reach new levels of cuteness when Vataha and volunteers dress them up in costumes ranging from a hot dog to Christmas outfits complete with lights.
The Mobile Minis team is more than just cute though. The therapeutic power of spending time with the mini horses has a noticeable effect on people that Vataha has seen time and time again. It’s her favorite part of what she does.
“I have so many favorite parts,” says Vataha. “When a child with autism wants to speak out and interact. When the mini lays her head on the bed of a hospice patient. When a man in assisted living is smiling ear to ear when he sees and touches the mini, while the nurses are in tears grabbing their camera because they never saw him smile or respond before. When a memory care patient who will not come out of his room comes out only when the horses are there for their monthly visit.”
Although people can and do donate to Mobile Minis, Vataha and her husband fund the program themselves.
“It’s our way of giving back to the community, helping the horses, and giving people a place to volunteer and touch so many lives with these amazing miniature horses,” Vataha says.
Now that the Mobile Minis team is settled into their new home, they are looking forward to bringing joy to even more people in Pennsylvania.
“Our minis are guaranteed to leave a smile on your face and a hoofprint on your heart,” says Vataha.