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Friendly visitors aren’t horsing around about spreading smiles

Three adorable miniature horses have been huge hits as they make visits in Ashcroft
Ashcroft Better at Home friendly visitors (from l) Lilly, Grumpy, and Hunnee dressed up for St. Patrick’s Day 2021. (Photo credit: Submitted)

What could be more heart-warming than an adorable miniature horse kitted out with holiday-appropriate accessories? Why, three adorable miniature horses, of course.

Hunnee, Grumpy (real name Tonka), and Lilly are the Better at Home friendly visitors, and since Christmas 2020 they have been inspiring smiles wherever they travel. Owner Nancy Kendall, the Ashcroft/Cache Creek Better at Home coordinator, says that the road to the horses becoming friendly visitors at Thompson View Manor and Lodge and Jackson House started last year.

“I moved the horses to a new boarding place in March 2020, and started walking them because they need exercise and socialization like any animal.

“One of my Better at Home clients loves horses, so I said I’d walk to her house just to say hi. The client got such huge enjoyment out of it, and people in the neighbourhood peeked their heads out to look, and it just grew from there.”

At Christmas Kendall took it a step further, and purchased some reindeer antlers meant for dogs, thinking “These would be cute on horses.” She thought she would take the horses to Thompson View and Jackson House and that people would get a good giggle out of it, expecially with COVID.

“It worked. Everyone had a great giggle, so I did it again with jingle bells on the horses. Just seeing the smiles and the appreciation was huge. People really loved and appreciated it.”

The visits were so popular that for Valentine’s Day the horses were outfitted with appropriate accessories and paid more calls. Kendall says that some people at Thompson View opened their doors to see the horses and had tears in their eyes.

“They were so happy to have something cute and fun, and have a little chat at the door. It really moved me. One person said they were so happy to have three minutes of this after being stuck inside. Just watching her eyes, it was hard for me to hold back the tears.”

It was wearing o’ the green time for Hunnee, Grumpy, and Lilly on St. Patrick’s Day, when they made another visit. Kendall says that when they went to Jackson House at the Ashcroft Hospital she knew that one of the women there used to have horses, so she gave her the lead rope and let her take the horses in.

“One man there used to have a ranch, and he had horses. Lilly had her head in his lap, and you should have seen the joy.”

Kendall says that cute as they undoubtedly are, miniature horses are not back yard pets; they need training, and owners have to respect them, spend a lot of time with them, and spend a lot of money.

“These are horses. You can’t just throw them in a back yard. My three can’t even eat grass. Miniatures have a lot of nutritional needs, and each one is very individual. It’s not as easy to keep them as people think.”

She adds that because of irresponsible inbreeding, many miniature horses have serious health issues. Grumpy and Hunnee each have a collapsing trachea, which makes it difficult for them to breathe and will probably kill them.

“They can live a lot longer given really good care, but there are a lot of them in rescue shelters and at auctions, and a lot of these little guys end up going for meat.”

At 26 years old, Hunnee — a rescue who had a very hard life before Kendall acquired her — is the “old lady” of the group. Grumpy is the nickname for Tonka, an 18-year-old who Kendall describes as a “big puddle of love”. Lilly, who is four, isn’t a rescue; she joined the herd in September 2020, when a friend offered her to Kendall because she felt bad that Hunnee and Grumpy weren’t well.

“I want to bring attention to what happens to these guys. They’re in auctions and slaughter houses, so the attention is important.

“My guys are very well behaved and I spend a lot of time with them, and spend a lot of money on them with farrier and vet care, teeth care, and specialty food.”

While most people are familiar with the idea of dogs making visits to people in assisted living or hospital settings, Kendall says that there are all sorts of animals who do this work, and her miniature horses are by no means unique. She has been following Amos the Wonder Horse, a miniature horse in Florida who does the same sort of work, for several years.

The horses will be dressed up for Easter (“Never in a million years would I have thought I’d have tickle trunks for my horses”), and Kendall says that on Sunday, April 4 they will be at Thompson View starting at around noon. They will make a couple of laps of the building before going to Jackson House, and will then go for a bit of a walk around the community.

“I have friends who like to be included, and have had to turn people away because we have too big an entourage. People just want to be part of seeing the smiles and the miniature horses, because they’re so cute.”

She adds that more of this sort of thing should happen. “I put myself in other people’s shoes. My dogs and horses are such a huge part of my life, and if I ever have to go into care I can’t imagine not having them. I think I would be devastated.

“I’ve had Grumpy for almost 10 years, then Hunnee, then Lilly, and I love them to bits. They’re my pets. I never would have thought that I would be able to share them with others like this. Now that it’s happening it gives me joy, and I’m really happy to share them.”

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