February 22, 2019
Mini Hooves, Big Hearts
One of the exhibits at this year’s Germantown Horse Fair & Food Truck Festival is Mini Hooves, Big Hearts Therapy Minis, which offers equine assisted emotional support for people of all ages and needs. “It doesn’t matter how big you are on the outside; it matters how big you are on the inside” is the motto of the non-profit foundation, created in 2017 by Andrea Gibson. It employs miniature horses to visit nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, assisted/senior living communities, treatment facilities, hospice care, and other locations and events to promote the positive effects of animal assisted therapy.
Because of their small size, miniature horses offer the opportunity for many people to encounter a horse that, otherwise, they would not have because of disabilities, illness, location, or any number of other reasons. Their diminutive size eliminates the intimidation some people feel around full sized horses, and many people are more comfortable around a miniature horse as a therapy animal than dogs.
Mini horse therapy has a number of physical benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, diminishing pain, and the release of endorphins which produce a calming effect. In a clinical setting, Minis can help decrease feelings of isolation and alienation, and encourage communication. Interacting with a Mini can assist children and adults in re-developing personal and social skills, such as empathy, appreciation for living things, nurturing instincts, and physical interaction. Befriending a Mini is a “safe zone” because an animal’s acceptance is non-judgmental, forgiving, and uncomplicated.
You may have noticed some of the minis in the photos wearing what looks like tennis shoes for horses. Gibson said, “Most of the places that we visit have slick floors and the minis need something on their feet to provide traction. The shoes are from Build A Bear Workshop. The shoes from BAB only work for my very small minis (30 inches and smaller). For the larger minis, I wrap their hooves in vet wrap. The tennis shoes are always a big hit with residents!”
Gibson has been a life-long horse owner. She also operates 646 Minis, a farm where she trains and sells miniature horses for therapy programs and for horse lovers with special needs. “I grew up in the suburbs. No one else in my family has an interest in horses. But the first time I saw a horse, it was love at first sight, and they have been a big part of my life ever since,” says Gibson.
“As my children have gotten older and require less of my time and attention, I began looking for something meaningful to do that involves horses. A few years ago, I attended an equine event where a miniature horse was introduced to the crowd, and I was surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response. Everyone there was already a horse enthusiast, but the miniature horse really piqued their attention. I knew that there was something special about the way that people, even horse people, interacted with a miniature horse, and so I began looking into uses for miniatures. After doing a little research, I learned about animal assisted therapy and decided that this was what I wanted to pursue with the minis.”
Gibson began training miniature horses to become part of a certified therapy team through Pet Partners, a national organization for animal assisted therapy. Once horses become certified by Pet Partners, they are ready to make official visits. “Originally, my focus was on training horses to sell to therapy groups and private individuals wanting a therapy horse. However, during my first official Pet Partners visit, I was completely overwhelmed by the response from the residents. They were so excited to be visited by a miniature horse! Several members of the staff commented about how it was the happiest and most interactive some of the residents had been in quite awhile. I realized that this venture was much more personal for me than just training horses. While the people I visit benefit from the experience, I am the one who is truly rewarded by having the opportunity to share what I love. After word about the visiting miniature horses got around, my calendar filled up quickly with requests,” explained Gibson.
Mini Hooves, Big Hearts Therapy Minis is a 501(c)(3) organization located in Newbern, TN, whose Minis make visits all across West Tennessee. Folks attending the Germantown Horse Fair and Food Truck Festival have the opportunity to meet one of Gibson’s Minis. More information can be found on facebook at: Mini Hooves Big Hearts Therapy Minis and the website, Minihoovesbighearts.org.
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