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Spreading a Little Christmas Cheer… On Four Hooves

Filed under: Current Articles,Featured,The Buzz |     

Photo courtesy of Phoenix Mountain Miniature Horses.

By: Brittany Bevis

While, for most, the Christmas season is a time of joy, hope, and grateful appreciation for saving grace, for others, it’s decidedly less jolly. When longtime APHA enthusiast, Delores Kuhlwein, learned that the holiday season can be one of the loneliest times of the year for those who’ve lost loved ones, are in the hospital, or who live in nursing homes, she wanted to do something to help.

“If we can give others something to look forward to, or a brief respite from their situation, I want to do that,” she says. “I know what riding horses, or simply being around them does for me. My worries are gone, and it’s just my horse and I.”

However, most people don’t have the opportunity to keep horses in their backyard, like Delores. If only these 1,000+ pound equines came in a smaller and more portable package… But they do!

Delores was first introduced to miniature horses while attending the Pinto World Show two years ago. “I’d always wanted to drive our big Paint Horses, but I was too scared,” she says. “Our good friend agreed to lease an experienced gelding to us, and the rest was history. I was completely hooked and blown away by the amount of heart these little horses have.”

December 2017- Maricopa Minis 4-H downtown Glendale, AZ. parade

Delores found inspiration from an organization she follows on Facebook, Triple B Foundation for Pet Therapy, which provides equine and canine emotional therapy for elderly, veterans, hospice patients, and prisoners. After attending a local therapy horse clinic with Joey Ogburn from Mini Angel Eyes, Delores knew she wanted to get more involved.

That first experience quickly led to the expansion of her own mini herd, consisting of Pistol, Preston, Charlie, and Bacardi. One of Delores’ friends, Christina Klein-Ellis, owns Phoenix Mountain Mini Horses and offered to let Delores and her 2-year-old mini, Preston, tag along on a trip to a nursing home. “I wasn’t sure if he’d accept all of it, since it was his first time. Christina told me that the horses have to get used to obstacles like steps and elevators, wheelchairs, the movements of some of the more disabled patients, and particularly the noise of the machines. The safety of the patients is key in these situations, and, as a handler, you have to be on your toes and be sure that your mini responds to you.”

“When we arrived, the first thing Preston did was walk right up to a gentleman in a wheelchair, who was reaching out to him, and placed his head in the man’s lap! I quickly found that he was undeterred by equipment and noises. Christina guided me through the home and showed me the ropes. The patients were excited to see two horses when they normally only see one, and their faces lit up with joy.”

Wicked and Preston at the Westchester Senior Living Center last week. Preston, is registered with the American Miniature Horse Association, and he’s approximately 31 inches tall. He’s considered A sized (34 inches and under) and is eligible for Pinto papers as well. “We bought him kind of on a whim last year from a local breeder, who was selling him to raise extra money for a benefit for her relative with Leukemia. Since then, he’s become our little unicorn, and my formerly tough trainer husband loves to hug him! He loves everyone, is unruffled by most things, and takes willingly to everything we throw at him.”

That interaction brought up memories of Delores’ own father, who passed away in 2017. “After my father became more home-bound and ill, he was forced to use a walker and a scooter. I understood more fully how frustrated he was and how little he had to look forward to, because he was a formerly active and hardworking man. When we lifted him up onto our tractor to drive it in February of 2017, two months before he passed, I realized how free he had felt. I wanted to somehow impact others who were forgotten or had given up on feeling delight in their lives. I think the minis came into my life not only to remind me to laugh but also to assist in reaching out to others who need it most.”

There are a few misconceptions about miniature horses, due to their size. While they may seem more like dogs than horses, they certainly deserve the same respect and are trained in much the same manner. “They’re exactly like big horses in their behaviors, not like dogs as some think,” she says. “But, most of the time, it’s funny when they misbehave and more manageable because they’re small. They get trained in basically the same way we train our big Paints and with the same concepts. However, since you can never get on their backs, teaching them to use their bodies is a bit more challenging. Also, they’re so much less expensive. We’ve determined that we can feed five minis for every big horse. Also, there are no shoes, no banding, and a much more brief body clip.”

Pistol enjoying a little grooming time during a church visit.

And speaking of those tiny shoes! For Preston’s first trip to the nursing home, he needed a little cushion and grip that would keep him from slipping on the tile floors. So, Delores and Preston headed to Build-a-Bear Workshop. “The staff at Build-a-Bear is used to miniature horse owners coming in to purchase tiny shoes for their visits. The shoes really help keep the little guys from slipping on linoleum and tile. We’re probably going to get serious and buy some Cavallo Horse Boots next year; but, in the meantime, Preston is having a blast with his little work boots.”

What surprised Delores the most about Preston’s first visit to the nursing home was his willingness to approach strangers. “Two of the patients had very jerky movements and tapped Preston on the head pretty hard since they couldn’t pet him easily with their hands. Preston just held still and closed his eyes! He’s a nibbler and is more animated and mouthier with more active patients, so we know we need to work on that, but I was surprised by his adaptation to each circumstance without my prompting.”

On Cinco De Mayo this year, Pistol and Delores accompanied Christine Lowe of Mini Equine Events to a benefit for foster kids at the Spine and Disc Center of Arizona. During the event, kids had a ball “painting the ponies” with washable paint and glitter. They’ve also participated in parades with a local 4H group called the Maricopa Minis. On December 8th, Delores and her husband, Mark, dressed up like Cindy Lou Who and The Grinch and took to the town with two miniature horses. “The reactions of the kids were priceless! Many told us that it was the first time they’d ever touched a horse. Mark almost got mobbed on the parade route a few times.”

Photo courtesy of Mini Equine Events. Hynoon Pistolero, “Pistol,” is 15 years old, and he’s an Arenosa. He’s registered with the American Miniature Horse Registry and also has Pinto Papers. He’s considered a B Division horse, which means he’s over 34 inches tall. “He’s my current all-around horse, who drives, jumps, does in-hand Trail, Showmanship, and Obstacle Driving. I thought I’d just drive when I started, but I found all of it is very fun and surprisingly challenging.”

Delores and Pistol also visit their local church and most recently attended the Halloween Trunk Or Treat event where they dressed up as tiny, equine, Nina Turtles. Delores and Preston plan on completing the evaluation process in 2019 to become qualified as a therapy horse team.

“I’ve recently begun to understand that my role in this world can change and that I can share the light and joy that I’m lucky enough to have in my life. I had no idea that minis would open so many doors and countless opportunities to serve others, or just to make them happy! It didn’t replace my love of riding or my fondness of big horses, but it added another element to our horsey lifestyle in ways we never imagined.”

Delores and Preston with Christina and Wicked during their nursing home visit.

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