An executive at Centers Health Care approached Gayle Kirschenbaum with an idea: Create a mini-horse therapy program in the company’s long-term care facilities.
“It was a huge undertaking,” says Kirschenbaum, Centers Health’s corporate director of recreation services. But with some assistance from a Georgia-based organization called Personal Ponies, Kirschenbaum was able to connect with horse handlers in the New York and New Jersey area and kickstart Centers’ Happy Horse Visit program in late 2016.
The program has since grown to serve more than 20 Centers Health facilities, and Kirschenbaum is hoping to expand it even more. The mini-horse visits have been a hit with residents, she says, because they’re out of the ordinary realm of therapy animals — and the perfect height for people to pet them from a wheelchair.
“They’re joyful. They’re like, ‘Why is a pony in the building?,’” Kirschenbaum says of the residents. “They’re able to feel touched at a really close level, they can really get up close and personal.”
But it’s not just the residents benefitting from the unique program.
“It’s a magical experience for the staff, too,” Kirschenbaum says. “It’s like the Pied Piper; people follow the horse when the horse comes. It really just exemplifies the happiness that the horse brings.”