Advertisement

They brighten seniors' day with a little horsepower

'Pit ponies' visit area retirement homes

'Pit ponies' visit area retirement homes

July 31, 2007|By JULIA COPLEY

BOONSBORO - When Shirley Hovermale bought her first miniature horse, Star Over Texas, about 10 years ago, she wanted a show animal and a friendly companion.

A few years later, when a friend at a retirement home suggested that she could bring her outgoing little horse to visit and brighten the day of the residents, the idea made perfect sense.

Hovermale and her husband, Don, both senior citizens, have kept active in their retirement by training, showing and visiting with their herd of four miniature horses. Hovermale says that visiting the retirement homes is the best part by far.

"Seeing the smile on their faces means more than any of those blue ribbons," she said.

Michelle Morris is the activities director at the Fahrney-Keedy Memorial Home, which recently received a visit from the Hovermales and their miniature horses. She said residents liked petting and hugging the spunky little creatures.

Advertisement

"It's an uplift, the residents do enjoy animals," she said. "Just by that moment, you can tell ... A spark lights up in their faces, in their eyes."

Morris said that the Fahrney-Keedy home receives quite a few regular visits from animal organizations. The residents have hosted all kinds, including little lap-sized dogs, big dogs, lambs and even baby goats. However, the Hovermales' show-trained miniatures horses take the cake by performing as well as cuddling.

"We always take at least two jumps" on retirement home visits, said Hovermale. The "jumps" are lightweight structures with a horizontal bar approximately 2 feet above the ground. Usually her husband leads the show, narrating as he puts the horses through their paces, and she takes the quieter task of leading the horses to the residents and encouraging the wary to "feel how soft their muzzles are." Once they get over their initial shyness, though, the residents generally can't get enough of the personable horses.

Miniature horses, according to the American Miniature Horse Association Web site, are the result of nearly 400 years of selective breeding. They were put to work in Europe and America as "pit ponies," hauling coal in cramped mines, and were kept as exotic house pets by upper-class families.

Three miniatures can be kept on a single acre of land, but each full-sized animal requires an acre to itself, the Web site says. Miniatures can be kept in backyards, depending on zoning laws, but full-sized horse pasturing is much more restricted.

The Hovermales visit area nursing homes on a volunteer basis. Their next scheduled visit is Sept. 11 at Ravenwood Lutheran Village.

The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|