Tiny therapy horses don’t judge, help cope

Residents at the Sulphur Veterans Center flock to the auditorium to see the spectacle — a horse, they were told, would be visiting the center.

Reba, who is not quite 28 inches tall, marched in wearing an American flag vest and combat boots made for dogs since the ones from Build-A-Bear Workshop were too big for her tiny hooves.

“Some of our residents grew up on farms and started reminiscing about the past when they saw her,” said Jenny Norton, one of the center’s recreation therapists. “I was hearing stories that after 17 years of working here, I’d never heard before. It was pretty amazing.”

Reba is one of 13 miniature therapy horses that have been soothing patients every weekend for the past year at nursing homes, hospitals and veterans centers across the state.

Noble residents Diana Wells and Kelly King launched the nonprofit Flames to Hope last summer after King and her husband bought their first miniature horse, Trigger, as a companion for their donkey. Last summer, King took Trigger to Noble’s annual Walk a Mile in Our Boots event, which raises awareness about veteran suicide, and the reaction was startling.

“We had him in a pair of cowboy boots and people’s reaction to it was awesome,” King said. “They loved him.”

King’s dad works at a nursing home nearby, so they took Trigger to visit the residents and the requests came flooding in.

Horses have a unique ability to understand and react to nonverbal cues because they themselves use mostly nonverbal communication, King said. Being around these animals gives individuals who have experienced physical or emotional trauma insight into their own feelings, helping those individuals cope, she said.

“People feel safe around animals because they don’t judge like humans do,” King said.

Flames to Hope has taken over the 2.2-mile Walk a Mile in Our Boots event this year, which will be held Sept. 23 at Kenneth L. King Park in Noble. Reba and some of the…

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