Maverick blazes pet therapy trail

As far as visitors go, Maverick isn’t necessarily an obvious fit at the nursing homes he frequents around Australia’s capital.

Sure, the 2-year-old has good manners and loves to dole out kisses.

But he also keeps his shoes — all four of them — on inside and fully expects residents to pamper him by stroking his back or running their fingers through his auburn mane.

Maverick is a mini pony, and he’s part of a varied pet therapy program at Uniting Mirinjani Weston. The facility offers “high care,” the Australian equivalent of skilled nursing, and dementia services. Pet therapy has had a successful past at the facility, and Maverick’s visits are particularly welcomed by residents with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

“Because we’ve got a lot of people from farms, seeing them have that interaction with the horse has been really amazing,” Wellness Coordinator Jo Sumner told ABC Radio Canberra. “It’s so uplifting for all of our staff and residents.”

Maverick has spent 18 months under the tutelage of equine trainers Nerida Winters and her daughter, Ellen.

“We wanted to share the experience of horse therapy with people who are in a situation where they may not get opportunities to interact with pets and animals,” Winters told the broadcaster. “We really just want to brighten people’s days.”