Nurses, doctors, pharmacists and other employees at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge lined up recently for a relaxation therapy the hospital offered them: a chance to cuddle and visit with a miniature horse.
SOUL Harbor Ranch Animal Therapy Program in Barrington brought Grace, who is 29 inches tall, and Unique, who is 28 inches tall, to provide calm and contentment as doctors threw their arms around them, hugged, hugged and took selfies. The November 11 visit was part of the hospital’s Team Member Appreciation Week.
“Getting a visit from SOUL Harbor Ranch is a fun way to lift the team’s morale and remind them that their hard work and selfless dedication does not go unnoticed,” said Advocate Lutheran General Hospital President Dia Nichols.
Jodie Diegel of SOUL Harbor Ranch explained, “They are more than just cute animals. They are registered therapy animals. They have to go through extensive training, as do their managers.”
Diegel said Soul Harbor, a non-profit organization that does not charge fees for its services, brings therapy animals to help heal and relieve stress for people in a variety of settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, veterans homes and schools.
“Everywhere we go, there’s more laughter, joy and healing,” she said. “We’re here to bring joy and stress relief.”
Diegel noted that Grace, a 9-year-old brindle, and Unique, who is 18 and a brown coat, are not ponies, but a separate breed called miniature horses. The American Miniature Horse Association classifies miniature horses as being 34 inches tall (measured at the withers) or less, while the American Miniature Horse Registry classifies them as 38 inches or less.
The mini-horses have to train to remain calm as people enthusiastically approach and hug them, she said, as Lutheran General Advocate employees waited in line to get their moment with the equines.
Some staff held the therapy animals very tightly and buried their faces in the horses’ manes.
“What you see here is a lot of training,” Diegel observed, as the horses patiently reacted to the hugs. “They (the mini-horses) become so zen – they melt into the moment. They provide that peaceful energy and also feed off of it. Horses are healers.”