LUBBOCK, Texas — Local nonprofit Minis and Friends has visited schools and retirement homes for more than a decade, but when the pandemic slammed the door on high-risk communities, the organization got creative to get back in the saddle to comfort senior citizens while social distancing.
“I don’t think everyone knows how difficult it’s been. [Nursing home residents] can’t even hug their caretakers,” Melanie Tatum, co-founder of Minis and Friends said.
Since April, the nonprofit has visited dozens of nursing homes and retirement communities with a team of 10 mini horses and donkeys—complete with masks for both volunteers and the animals at times. With special permission from the mayor’s office, Minis and Friends comforted many isolated seniors by peeking at them through their windows.
Wednesday, the group paid a visit to the Library of Legacies assisted living facility in Slaton, Texas, where the residents got to interact with ponies in person outside. The group said it was possible because the facility has yet to have a case of COVID-19.
“Getting to touch and see the horses kind of brings back memories from their childhood,” Tatum said.
Tatum emphasized that horses can be therapeutic for those with dementia or Alzheimer. Many of the residents grew up around livestock and seeing them can remind them of their childhood pets.
“We like them, and they like us … Anything we can get to brighten our day, we’re all for it,” nursing home resident Gene Moore said.
“They’re a fine-looking bunch,” fellow nursing home Shug Thomas said of the two horses he pet, Buttercup and Snuggles.
Tatum added that the little ponies also made a big impact on the health care workers at the facility.
“We hope that these little guys can make a small difference for [both senior citizens and their health care workers] if it’s just for that minute,” Tatum said.
Due to COVID-19, many of the nonprofit’s fundraising events were canceled, so volunteers need your help to keep up their work. For more information on how you can support Minis and Friends, you can head to their Facebook page or their website.