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A Casual Kind of Horse Therapy

Published: 3/28/2012
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By Maddy Butcher Gray

It started some years back.
My neighbor, Maynard, took a fancy to my girls. When it came time to harvest the corn in his garden, he’d load up the stalks and chug across the yard on his tractor. At the fence, he’d make sure each one got her fair share.

I’d usually meet him to say thanks and to retell him their names, which he’d forgotten since the year before. He liked Shea the best and chided Brooke on her rudeness. Over the course of a few weeks, the horses came to connect his tractor’s sound with treats. They’d scurry for position, line up, and wait.

Maynard is one tough guy. At 5’6,” maybe 130 pounds, and turning 90 this year, he might not look it.   But a few years back, he woke up with chest pains and drove himself to the Emergency Room. He and his wife, life-long vegetarians, have raised five children and have always maintained a mammoth, meticulous garden. They heat with wood from their property.

They were self-sufficient long before it became fashionable.

It’s only since the heart attack that his pace has slowed. Still, he visited often, bringing them apples, even snowshoeing over in winter’s twilight to say hello and offer treats.

Last fall, Maynard was working in his back field when he felt weak and dizzy. His son got him on the tractor’s cart and then to the hospital. He’d had a stroke.
I visited him during his long rehabilitation at a Portland facility. He told me he was impatient to get home for Christmas.
“If you do, Peppermint and I will come over for a visit,” I said for encouragement.
 It came as no surprise when he defied odds and progressed enough to return for the holiday. We got togged up and headed over. If I hadn’t held her back, Peppermint would have showed no hesitation and joined him in his kitchen!

There’s official therapy. Sonia Theobalds, Marsha Craig, Sally Butcher, and Nancy Hohmann are examples of wonderful ambassadors who work with their animals to help veterans, children, and countless clients in need.

It’s incredible work and my hat is perpetually off to them.

And then there’s unofficial therapy the rest of us have the privilege of providing every once in a while. Often these quiet visits speak volumes for connecting and raising spirits of those without horses. It reminds us horse owners how lucky we are. Lucky to pay it forward. Lucky to have that animal connection for ourselves every day. 

Having horses can soothe our souls in more ways than one, can’t it?

Since December, Maynard has continued to improve.
This week, he visited with apples and carrots, albeit with a cane and his daughter’s help. The girls heard that familiar engine and lined up.

They were thrilled. And so was I.

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3/30/2012 Robin
Great story! I'm so glad that Maynard is recovering and that your girls are providing him with a reason to get out and about. I think that's so important as we age. I hope Maynard can continue visiting the girls for years to come.
3/30/2012 Mary Ellen
Nice blog! I'm sure that Christmas visit meant a lot!
3/31/2012 Marsha Craig
What a wonderful story. It sure warms the heart to see what our 4 legged friends can accomplish. Lately we are also taking our 18month old dog, Sassy, and our 3 month old Ragdoll kitten, KooPurr, on therapy visits to Wedgemere Nursing Home in Taunton, MA. It's fun to see which animal the residents perk up to. Again, wonderful article and shared in on my FB wall.
3/31/2012 Claire Dorotik
So wonderful to see equine therapy used in the aging process...what a wonderful concept! Claire Dorotik M.A., author, ON THE BACK OF A HORSE: Harnessing the Healing Power of the Human-Equine Bond

"No one can teach riding so well as a horse" - CS Lewis