The tall and short of horse therapy - Tucson News Now

The tall and short of horse therapy

By Barbara Grijalva - email 

Imagine two horses, one a gentle giant and the other a tiny treasure, visiting a Tucson nursing home. 

JJ is an 1,800 pound Clydesdale that's still growing.  Snickers is a miniature horse.  

The residents are in their wheelchairs outside Life Care Center of Tucson.

They reach out to touch the animals that connect with them in a way no one else can.

We listen to the residents as they pet the horses' noses.

"Yes. I love you. I would like to have you. Yes, I would."

There are giggles.

"I like snickers."

 JJ and Snickers are on one of their many outings to bring joy and love to places where their special brand of care goes a long way.

Sometimes it's going to see children in hospitals.

Sometimes it's a visit to patients in hospice care.

On this day, it's a trip to the nursing home.

Nancie Roahrig and her helpers from the non-profit Step Up Into T.L.C. do this because they know Nancie's Clydesdale and miniature horse can be the best medicine of all. 

"Lowering blood pressure and helping with range of motion. It helps with the family members. They love to see their family members happy," Nancie says.

A woman's daughter is visiting today too and knows why her mother is so enthralled.

"She grew up in Kentucky and she had horses."

JJ snorts and a resident purrs back at him.

Tragedy brought Nancie to the realization that she and her horses had the power to help.

A friend's child died of leukemia at 16.

The friend said her daughter had loved horses very much.

"She shared with me that her daughter would have really loved to have had a horse come visit her at the hospitals while she was having treatment.  It would have given them some better memories toward the end of life.  And so with that information, I called UMC and TMC and asked if I could bring my Clydesdale to pediatrics," Nancie says.

That was 10 years ago. 

Now, with seemingly infinite patience, the gentle creatures nudge awake memories of times long past.

89-year-old Bessiebelle Mandel remembers, "I liked them. When I was in high school, I took riding lessons."

She tells of her uncle who plowed the fields behind a  horse.

I had one that would kneel down for me to get on."

"It's surprising how they know who really likes them, and who doesn't, but they know," says 92-year-old Belle Feldt.

It's the gift of unconditional love, the most precious gift of all.

Step Up Into T.L.C. has six horses that visit nursing homes, hospitals and hospices.

It is a non-profit that exists thanks to donations and volunteers.


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