Tiny horse trots into residents' hearts

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 25, 2011

Autumn Care of Salisbury
Residents of Autumn Care of Salisbury, a rehabilitation and nursing facility on Bringle Ferry Raod, got a visit last week from Bree, a miniature horse. Bree, short for “Easy Breezy Covergirl,” and owner Mildred “Mickey” Watts of Kannapolis enthralled staff and residents alike as they entered the front lobby and began strolling the halls.
“I tried to keep her visit a secret because I wanted it to be a surprise for our residents,” said Activities Director Kimberly Crowley. “And quite frankly, I wanted to check her out myself first to make sure she was well-behaved.”
There was no need to worry. Bree, who was decked out in her bumblebee costume and matching non-skid socks, was a very good houseguest. She politely let residents rub her forelock, stroke her mane and even kiss her cheek. She calmly strolled the halls and into resident rooms with Mickey and her entourage of admirers following along.
Her visit, initially intended to be only 45 minutes long, stretched to almost two hours as word spread of her arrival. Everyone, including staff and visitors, wanted their photo taken with Bree, while bedridden residents beckoned for her to come closer. She and Mickey posed for more than 130 photos and visited at least 60 rooms.
Though staff was prepared and ready for potential “accidents,” Bree was modest enough to wait until she was back outside the facility before taking care of business, leaving a small offering of complimentary fertilizer for the grass.
At first, many residents were not sure of Bree’s identity. Some thought she was a dog while others (because of the costume’s antennae) were absolutely sure Bree was a goat. When resident Barbara Artz learned Bree was a miniature horse, she joked as she stroked the horse’s mane, “Wait til I tell my husband I had a horse in my room! He’ll never believe it. He’ll probably think I took too many happy pills!”
“That is the beauty of these miniature horses,” said Watts. “Because of their small size, they can go just about anywhere.”
Watts, at age 81, transports Bree in a large dog crate in the back of her Ford minivan and says the tiny dimensions of these horses make them easy for just about anyone to handle. Miniature horses, which range in height from 19 to 38 inches, are not a new invention. They were originally bred as pets for European nobility in the 17th century, and later used as pit ponies for coal miners.
Because they have life spans that are 31/2 times longer than dogs, the diminutive equines have recently begun to gain in popularity as guide animals for the blind. And they don’t get fleas.
At only 9 months old, Bree, who stands 20 inches, has already made many friends at schools and other long-term care facilities.
“It’s wonderful because it brings back all the happy childhood memories for them. They tell me about every horse they ever owned — what color they were and what they taught them. I stay until everyone has a chance to see her. I have seen withdrawn people come out of their shells and other people smile who haven’t done so in years.” said Watts.
Crowley called the visit a “rich and rewarding experience” for the residents.
“I am a firm believer that endorphins are released when someone has a positive interaction with a pet or animal,” she said. “It goes a long way towards reducing pain, alleviating depression and elevating mood. That’s really what it’s all about.”