Senior living residents and staff at Beach House at Wiregrass recently welcomed some special guests — a pair of miniature horses and their handlers.
The 3-foot-tall ponies, Honey and Belle, stopped by the facility’s memory care center on Feb. 18, to provide therapeutic interaction with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, in the form of comfort, love and smiles.
It’s a visit the horses make monthly.
Patients spent time bonding with the animals through eye contact, touching, petting and even a few kisses on the horses’ foreheads.
Memory care resident Rachella Rey voiced her appreciation for the visit.
“It’s nice of you to bring them in and let all of us see them,” she told the handlers during the hourlong visit.
She immediately bonded with 8-year-old Belle.
“This is amazing, you’re amazing,” Rey said, while continuously petting the friendly Belle.
The Beach House is one of the first places that handler Mary Rose Gullet visited about two years ago when she began the journey of launching her 501c3 nonprofit organization, Honey’s Mini Therapy Adventures.
“It’s one of our favorite places to go,” said Gullet, adding it’s “where we really started seeing the impact that they make.
“This is where I first realized, ‘We need to keep doing this,’” Gullet said.
Added fellow handler Lisa Slaughter, of Land O’ Lakes: “It’s like they (horses) know what they’re going through. They’re just very spiritual animals; they just have a sense about them.”
Gullet began taking her Honey, a 7-year-old mare, on friendly visits throughout Central Florida in 2018.
The horse is named Honey because “she’s sweet like Honey,” Gullet said.
For Gullet, it was a way to “have a good impact in the community and make a difference in someone’s day.”
Gullet, now 30, has owned and bred horses since she was a teenager growing up in Wesley Chapel.
After she graduated from Pasco-Hernando State College, Gullet had the option to become a full-time, stay-at-home mom to her children.
But, she felt compelled to bring joy to individuals of all ages and limitations, whether it be physical, cognitive, emotional or behavioral disabilities, through mini horse therapy.
In a short time, Honey’s Mini Therapy Adventures has grown significantly.
The nonprofit has two sister facilities in Lutz and Wesley Chapel, in addition to Gullet’s 12-acre horse farm in Webster.
In total, the organization has six mini horses and a board of directors/volunteers serving throughout Central Florida.
Last year, the group went on more than 275 visits — spending time at schools, hospitals, senior living facilities and behavioral health centers, and other locations.
Gullet swears by horse therapy, noting it has helped her in her personal life.
It has helped her to cope with a traumatic childhood, which included sexual abuse and subsequent battles with mental health issues.
“Horses are probably the only reason why I’m still here today,” Gullet said passionately. “It’s continually healing me; it’s ongoing therapy.”
Because of her personal trauma, Gullet felt it her duty to share the joy of horses with others, to help alleviate suffering and to provide comfort.
She put it like this: “Looking back, it’s the silver lining, the good that came out of the bad for me because I’m able to help people, and it did give me the drive and passion to share horses with people.”
Gullet went on to describe that horses are empathic creatures.
“They have feelings. They love being connected with people, and I think they have a different way of connecting to people. When you have a relationship with a horse that you trust, there’s like a calming piece to it,” she said.
And, with the mini horses, “I get to hand a piece of that to people in these facilities,” she said.
Slaughter said some of the most powerful moments come when they take the minis into mental/behavioral health facilities — meeting with veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or those who’ve been placed there for emergency mental health, through the state’s Baker Act.
Slaughter said the minis bring “little package of smiles” to those who “don’t have much to smile about.”
“It’s a lot of joy that we bring around,” Slaughter said.
“The first time I went to a visit, it was a little anxiety going on, and within seconds you just see there’s just calmness because you’re with this animal that’s just calming you.
“It’s emotional. It’s pretty rewarding to be able to do it. You wake up every day and you look forward to it,” Slaughter added.
The organization plans to use the horses to help celebrate birthdays for foster children.
It also hopes to serve more as a crisis response team in the future — something handlers did recently at a Pasco County school following a student who died by suicide, to aid students, teachers and faculty.
Said Gullet, “I want to be able to call up one of our handlers and say, ‘Hey, we have a crisis, we need a horse there, let’s throw the horses in a trailer and get there.”
For more information about Honey’s Mini Therapy Adventures, visit MiniTherapy.org.
Published March 4, 2020
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.