An animal lover in California is showing everyone that mini horses can excel in therapy work.
After retiring from a successful career in dressage, Victoria Nodiff-Netanel decided to purchase a mini horse as a pet.
The experienced horsewoman told Wide Open Pets she's always felt a connection to animals, but the miniature horses she used to visit with her daughter were magical. Victoria and her daughter would make every excuse they could to visit the mini horses at Quicksilver Ranch in California.
When Victoria finally took one of the mini horses home, she got an idea:
"I ended up training this little horse just for fun and started to teach it things. I had no idea how much I could train the horse to do. It was so much fun, and I was just so in love with my little horse. And then I had one of those real ideas - when they say light bulb moments, that's really what it was. I thought, maybe I could help people with my love of horses and this little horse."
Victoria started by training her first mini horse and reaching out to every contact she could. She wrote letters and made phone calls, and when her horse was ready, they started their therapy work at a veteran's hospital.
She watched her mini horse make an immediate impact, and Victoria knew she could do more.
Several more mini horses joined the team, and Victoria started a non-profit, volunteer-run organization called Mini Therapy Horses.
Mini horses Pearl, Willow, Belle, Valor, Blue Moon, Louise, and Stormy work with people of all ages undergoing different medical treatments and in need of specific kinds of comfort. Victoria dedicates her life to training and taking care of her mini therapy horses, and as a team, they're helping others in need.
The seven mini horses weigh between 100 and 150 pounds each, and they're trained to offer comfort, support, and joy to people in need. They give high-fives, make music on portable keyboards, spin in circles, and smile on command. Their tricks are impressive, but that's not what makes a mini horse remarkably good at being a therapy animal.
"It's so different to have this little, toy-like looking horse. Everyone has these kinds of mythic images of horses, and then here's this little, beautiful mini horse that they can braid their hair and brush. They can even walk them from their walker or wheelchair. We're there for a few hours, and the horse lets them have a shift in what they're going through. It gets their mind off their pain and shows them happiness is possible."
Willow, one of Victoria's mini horses, has helped countless children and veterans find that moment of peace. A boy with visual impairments brought his family to tears when he became immersed in interacting with Willow. The boy couldn't see the mini horse standing in front of him, but his hands went from ears to hooves, and for the first time in months, he was happy.
Stories like that one are commonplace around the team at Mini Therapy Horses. They regularly visit the Ronald McDonald Houses, the Greater Los Angeles Veterans Hospital, and they're active members of the LA Mayor's Crisis Response Team. They work with the Los Angeles county Sheriff's Department to help with traumatic events, and they frequently attend community events and programs.
Victoria's seven mini horses are well-known in their hometown and beyond, and their acclaim has earned them a spot in the 2018 Rose Parade, which theme is "Making a Difference."
According to Victoria:
"They couldn't have picked a better theme to match what we do."
Victoria, her team of volunteers, and her seven miniature therapy horses are making a difference in more ways than one. Learn more about the therapy program's mission by visiting their website, and stay updated with what they do on Facebook.
All images via Mini Therapy Horses
Have you seen mini horses used as therapy animals before? Let us know what you think of these tiny horses in the comments.
WATCH NOW: Wide Open Pets Goes to the BEHS Horse Expo