Miniature therapy horse visits seniors to spread joy
TORONTO -- A shaggy black miniature horse is trotting around a seniors’ centre in Alberta to prove that good things really do come in small packages.
Diablo is a six-year-old therapy horse, and she and her owners are dedicated to spreading joy.
Diablo has been visiting seniors at the Willow Creek Continuing Care Centre for a few years, making trips every couple months to offer companionship to residents struggling with dementia, sight or hearing issues.
Marlys Bingham is one person who appreciates her visits. She has dementia, but is able to stay alert and recall more memories when spending time with the tiny horse.
“Everybody loves a pony,” she said. “Even me.”
Dana Cummings, Diablo’s owner, told CTV Calgary that “Marlys is just a perfect example today of a resident who used to farm or ranch and has … memories flood back to her of having animals and having her horse and her pony (when Diablo is around).”
Many of the residents come from a farming background, Cummings said.
“They're retired now so they don't get the opportunity to see their horses or their animals anymore.”
She is loved by those who feel isolated due to hearing or vision loss as well -- the miniature horse stands patiently while residents give her scratches and pats, allowing them to stimulate their senses through the power of touch.
“She must be well-trained, that one,” Bingham observed during one of Diablo’s visits. “With all of us around, she didn’t fuss.”
Josee Meston, the recreation therapist who is present during Diablo’s visits, said that “as with any therapy animal, the decrease in anxiety and depression can be seen just from smiles on (residents’) faces.”
She added that “residents feel (those positive effects) for days afterwards.”
Diablo wasn’t always as well-mannered as she is now. Cummings said that she was a bit of a handful when she first came to her. But her calm demeanor now makes her an ideal therapy animal, a role she will hopefully fill for many more years.
Miniature horses usually live for 30 years, so Diablo has a lot of time left to keep bringing smiles out of seniors.