Miniature horses make house calls in the community
Vinnie is a “total ham, a super easygoing guy,” and Pippa is a “little spitfire who is playful.”
Both are miniature horses who are spreading unconventional joy in the community as part of the Minis on the Move program offered by the Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian Center, according to Morgan Kastenek, development and marketing manager.
“Since people can’t come to the horses because of the COVID-19 crisis, the horses are being transported to locations in the community for 30-minute visits for a suggested donation of $40 or more,” said Mrs. Kastenek.
“Staff accompanying the minis follow the most current Santa Barbara County COVID-19 Guidelines. Hearts staff wear masks and gloves, and we practice proper social distancing.”
Visits are for front yards or common spaces only, and everyone is asked to remain in their yards while visiting with the horses.
“We also do not encourage friends to come to your home for these visits,” she added.
One surprised recipient on a recent morning was a new Dos Pueblos High School graduate whose aunt wanted to do something special for her niece whose graduation ceremony had to be canceled.
“The young woman kept saying, ‘Best. Day. Ever,’ ” said Mrs. Kastenek. “It was really an unconventional thing to do. Having two miniature horses on your front lawn can’t help but be utterly joyful.”
Minis on the Move was launched when the center, which offers equine-assisted activities and therapies to inspire, strengthen and motivate people of all ages and capabilities, was forced to close because of the pandemic.
“Our largest program at Hearts serves children and adults with physical, cognitive, behavioral or emotional challenges,” said Mrs. Kastenek.
“The complex act of riding a horse produces significant improvements in core/trunk strength, alignment, balance, stamina and mobility that cannot be achieved by other therapeutic means. Additionally, for children and adults with ADHD, anxiety, autism, and other cognitive and developmental challenges, connecting with and riding horses bring improvements in their ability to focus, verbal and nonverbal communication, socialization, mood and confidence.
“We were especially concerned about these clients with special needs and how we could remain connected with them. We considered Facetime, but there is nothing like being with a horse in a face-to-face setting. It’s a very calming experience that brings a lot of joy and happiness.”
The center found its solution when the staff heard about an East Coast organization that took horses to people’s homes.
“”Mini on the Move was perfect for us because Vinnie, who is 20 years old, has been with us for more than 10 years, and Pippa, a 4-year-old, was donated to us two years ago. Vinnie is about 3 feet tall, and Pippa is a half foot shorter,” said Mrs. Kastenek.
At first, the horses visited the center’s clients who were unable to come to the facility, and they also went to the Alpha Resource Center and Sarah House, one of Santa Barbara’s hospice homes.
“When we saw how much joy Vinnie and Pippa brought, we decided to open this wonderfully uplifting program to the Santa Barbara community,”
said Mrs. Kastenek.
The horses are transported in a horse trailer towed by a truck driven by Duane Marsh, equine and facilities manager at the center.
“One or two staff members in masks and gloves accompany him and stand by during the visit. Some people just enjoy quietly observing the horses, and others like to interact by petting them, brushing them or giving them cookies,” said Mrs. Kastenek. “For some people, we are the first visitors in several months. They are ecstatic.”
The visits are serving a dual purpose because the program is educating the public about the Hearts Therapeutic Equestrian Center, located on 10 to 12 acres on Calle Real.
“Our programs offer participants the opportunity to focus on their abilities, and the results are life-changing,” said Mrs. Kastenek. “Our services are open to any person with special needs who can benefit from therapeutic horsemanship. Lessons are individually designed to meet a client’s particular need and ability and are consistent with predetermined goals that are established in partnership with parents, caregivers, physicians and other participants.”
Students, who must be at least 4 years old, are enrolled at Hearts on an annual basis.
“Hearts provides 44 weeks of riding per year. Tuition fees for 44 weekly lessons are pro-rated across the 12 months of the year, and tuition adjustments may be available,” said Mrs. Kastenek.
For more information about therapeutic riding, interested persons can call 805-5206 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other services offered by Hearts include Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy for those with mental health needs, Equine Services for Heroes for U.S. veterans and the Summer Camp Horse Experience for children ages 6 through 10 with or without disabilities.
Since June 1, the center has been reopening in phases, modifying its programs to allow for lower-risk operations, including lessons for independent riders in the therapeutic riding program and Equine Services for Heroes.
“Our staff will continue to evaluate these circumstances so they can be safely accommodated in later phases,” said Mrs. Kastenek. “Meanwhile, Vinnie and Pippa will continue to serve as our heartwarming equestrian ambassadors in the community.”