Congratulations to the 2022 Therapy Horse of the Year finalists, and thank you to all who entered! Reading hundreds of entries—all extolling the healing power of horses—was truly uplifting and inspiring. Give your horses a big pet for us!
Now without further ado, here are the four finalists!
Mom has dementia. Some days are good, and some are really bad. Dad had three emergency heart surgeries and ultimately almost lost his foot to an infection. Those weeks Dad was gone, Mom didn’t know us or him.
After a bad visit with dad at the hospital where mom didn’t recognize him or me, the ride home was torture. My wife told me to bring Mom to the barn. I introduced Mom to Elliot and the moment they looked into each other’s eyes and snuggled, memories flooded back in waves. She remembered nearly everything; we were all in shock! To say the rest of the day was the best in years is an understatement.
They both now frequently visit Elliot when possible to continue therapy, and progress is indicated by the smiles. Elliot’s door (I mean stall) is not just open for the elderly, it is always open. I frequently walk into the barn during a session with a little girl having a bad day, cuddling it out with him as he lays down with them to listen to their problems.
As a police officer, I can say sometimes it’s hard to work through some of life’s experiences on your own but Dr. Elliot is always available and listening intently; with a snuggle he lets you know it will be ok and then it’s off to his next patient! I was never a horse person; actually, I was scared of them. Now what I am scared of is not having Elliot in our lives.
New Kingdom Trailriders
The world hears, “I’m ok.” My instructor hears, “I’m fine.” My horse hero, Charlotte, hears, “I’m broken” and responds, “Yes, but you can still color.”
Charlotte helps me find my brightest colors, and color the world with them every day. She reminds me that even broken crayons still color. She brings a lot of color to my life and helps me color the lives of others.
Riding Charlotte has changed my outlook on life. I have chronic Lyme disease, and I am living in an unstable body. Having Charlotte’s stability in my life has been priceless. She has helped me process a lot of traumas, and work through life instead of just putting a band aide on it. She’s helped me find my strengths, so I can use them to fight my weaknesses.
Charlotte has a “let’s win!” mentality. She’s small but mighty. She will never give up on her riders. She’s the perfect partner. She’s helping me trust again. It’s nice to have Charlotte on my team as I fight Lyme disease. It may not be today, and it may not be tomorrow, but we’re going to beat Lyme. Most importantly, Charlotte always reminds me to be thankful for what I am now, because I’m stronger than who I was yesterday because of her. And she reminds me to keep fighting for who I want to be tomorrow. Now when my mind whispers “I’m broken,” I hear Charlotte’s voice fighting back, “Expect to win. We got this!”
Smith View Farm
Babe is one of those rare unicorns you only come by once in a lifetime. Her demeanor and size make her appropriate for any rider. She carries riders with disabilities, and nervousness, and can even ride more experienced clients who are advancing in their skills. She has never, ever put a hoof out of line.
At 24 years old she has impacted the lives of hundreds of riders, volunteers, and families. One of Babe’s current regular students is Aiden (name and picture used with permission). Aiden needs 24-hour care and is nonverbal. There are not many activities that he enjoys participating in, but coming to ride Babe is the highlight of his week. He feels safe around her. His emotions often build up, but on Babe, he knows he can release those emotions. She will adjust her stride to match what Aiden needs. Babe will stop and stand perfectly still when he needs to lie down and hug her neck. She adjusts her balance if Aiden begins to lean to one side. After his dismount, Aiden will spend a few minutes stroking Babe’s neck, and Babe will lick and chew and bring her head gently around as though she is giving him a hug.
His family notes that Aiden sleeps better, is more emotionally regulated, and is stronger in his balance in the day after riding. Aiden is one of many riders whose weeks are brightened by Babe. We cannot imagine our program without her. In her senior years, we noticed her nutritional and medical needs changing. She has PPID and arthritis. She cannot maintain her weight as she once could. Our goal is to continue to provide Babe with the care she needs in order to keep her happy and comfortable. We are not ready for Babe to retire, and neither is she.
Gaits of Freedom
I started therapeutic riding lessons in 2009. Honey was my 20-year-old QH at the time and she knew her job, serving each and every rider and meeting them where they needed her to be.
She had a wide range of riders of all abilities. She walked softly for the blind, slow for the physically challenged, had several riders who rode her faithfully every week, and after a period of time could ride her independently—much to the surprise of their parents!
Honey dropped her left knee at the mounting block to allow a double amputee veteran to mount her easily; when she was asked to say “hi” to a young lady in a wheel-bed who could only move her eyes and lips, Honey put her nostril up to her ear and blew her warm breath; and Honey stood still for 30 minutes for a young boy with autism so that he could sleep on her back ( he hadn’t slept for weeks). She was the first therapeutic horse to pilot the Greater Worcester area Equestrian Special Olympics.
Honey also started a therapy program for parents who have lost a child while serving our country in the military, a parents’ retreat. She works without complaint and seems to know exactly what each rider needs. I couldn’t train her for the work that she did, I was just the facilitator, a witness to the miracles that happened every time she met a person who needed her.