The clip-clop of heavy hooves echoes across the concrete, signalling that a most unusual visitor is ambling up to Castor’s Our Lady of the Rosary Hospital.
Kruiden, a friendly quarter-horse that stands 16 hands high (about five foot six inches tall), is a welcome sight for residents, who smile and wave through nearby windows or venture outdoors to visit with an animal that helps them reconnect with their past.
“To see another horse again, it brings back a smile. It brings back their youth. It brings back their memories,” says Teresa Van Hienan, housekeeping lead for the Covenant Health site and Kruiden’s owner.
The 10-year-old horse is one of several equines that Teresa has walked over from her nearby home to interact with residents. Teresa started her horse-related volunteer work about five years ago because of the powerful bond residents have with horses.
“There are very few of them who didn’t raise horses, ride horses to school or have workhorses on the farm.
“Horses have always been part of their lives,” says Teresa. “Even if they grew up in town, they had some kind of contact with horses. And horses appeal to everybody.”
Resident Jim Griebel says Kruiden brought back memories of growing up with horses on the farm and then later when he had his own land.
“I’ve been around horses my whole life,” says Jim, 71. “We’re lucky to have had that horse here. It was a good horse. It was good to see him.”
Too big to venture indoors, Kruiden stood calmly on the facility’s patio, welcoming hugs, pats and conversations.
Teresa says her horses are comfortable walking up to individuals in wheelchairs or walkers and seem to instinctively know to lower their head so they are within easy range to nuzzle or receive a pat.
“I don’t know how they know, but they know that these people are vulnerable. They just stand there and look at them and want to be petted,” Teresa says. “Animals are therapeutic for everybody. There’s a saying that the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a person. It helps calm people down, just petting a horse, looking into those big liquid eyes. People enjoy it.”
For Jim, horses are much more than a working farmhand.
“They’re smart animals. I like them, and I think they understand what you’re telling them when you talk to them,” he says.
by Shelly Decker, Covenant Health