A Horse Walks into a Hospital. No, Really.

mini horse 2

Brian Hohstadt with Baxter

A visitor to your hospital room wearing boots and a jaunty hat might not be instantly welcome – unless it happens to be a mini horse.

Baxter the therapy horse is just 26 inches tall at the shoulders, but he becomes larger than life for patients facing a difficult recovery in the hospital. Previously unresponsive patients will reach out to touch the horse. Others barely able to move after major surgery will sit up when they see Baxter. And hospital staff members report that patients tend to stay engaged, even after the visit.

Baxter is one of three mini horses that visit hospitals and other facilities with handler Brian Hohstadt, president of the Triple B Foundation for Pet Therapy. If it seems like beeping machines and slippery floors aren’t the ideal setting for even a scaled-down horse, exposure to novel sounds and situations are part of the horse’s training to become a certified therapy animal. Specially made rubber-soled boots help their small hooves track comfortably on polished floors. And bathroom breaks? They know to wait for a signal from their handler.

While published clinical data on the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy are limited, the emotional reactions of patients, families and even hospital staff are a testament to the joy and comfort a mini horse can bring.

“When a horse trots into a patient’s room, it has a way of instantly making things better,” says Chelsea Sandlin, director, Volunteer and Ancillary Services. “We see smiles and often tears from patients and their families. Petting a horse and interacting with it really makes the patient’s day and gives them a break from whatever challenges they are facing.”

For some patients, seeing a mini horse helps them revisit fond memories. Others seem to forget, at least for a while, the limits of their immediate situation. The mission of the Triple B Foundation is “to enhance the well-being of those in need through the human-animal bond.” Maybe giving patients a break from the weight of illness – in the form of furry, four-legged love – is part of what the doctor should be ordering.

Comments

  1. Ashley Borek says:

    This is so wonderful! Baxter is Awesome!

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