Misty Meadows Equine Learning Center teamed up with the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living (MVCFL) Friday to offer an enjoyable community event featuring horse grooming, tours, and visits with miniature therapy horse Tony Smalls.
The outdoor gathering saw folks from the MVCFL, along with various other organizations and community groups. Anyone interested in the event was invited to attend.
Sounds of laughter and contented whinnies could be heard for several hours around the horse center property, as folks brushed the horses’ sun-warmed coats and stroked their manes.
Tony Smalls, a licensed (miniature) therapy pony, made the rounds to all the guests who wanted to greet him, and was brought into the indoor equestrian area, where he showed off his abstract painting skills.
All the while, people chatted with each other, told stories, and reminisced with old friends.
Annie Parsons, instructor at Misty Meadows, said Tony Smalls is certified by the Miniature Equine Therapy Standards Association, and has extensive experience bringing joy and comfort to all who encounter him.
“We started off at Windemere about two or three years ago, just visiting. I got quite a lot out of it, and I think other people did, too,” Parsons said. “I continued doing that, and we have also had various demonstrations, like archery, painting, and we just started arranging a dance routine. We’re five weeks into the practice.”
Parsons said a social event like this allows people to get out into the community and reconnect with one another, after having been cooped up for so long. “Social interaction is hard for everyone right now. A lot of people, when they get older, they have an even more difficult time getting out and having those really important social experiences that are priceless for everyone,” Parsons said.
She added that animal therapy is beneficial for everyone, especially for those who might not be living at home anymore, and want that warmth and connection.
“I’ve never been without animals, and there is a point when I might not be able to have them. So I am hoping when that time comes, someone will bring me a pony to pet,” Parsons laughed.
Shelley Wilbur, a volunteer at Misty Meadows, said the equine center wants to continue expanding its program offerings to people of all ages and abilities, and a horse social is a great way to break the ice. “Ultimately, I believe they are seeing where the interest is, and how they can expand their offerings based on feedback,” Wilbur said.
According to Wilbur, spending time with horses provides tranquility, and “until someone has actually done it and experienced being around these animals, it’s very hard to explain just how healing and therapeutic it really is.”
As part of the MVCFL supportive day program, clients do enjoyable activities during the day such as exercising, playing, and listening to music, or taking trips to places like Misty Meadows and Felix Neck.
According to MVCFL executive director, Leslie Clapp, the program provides respite for family caregivers, enabling them to work as well as provide for the needs of others in their family.
“Most of our clients are in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. It’s a day that not only helps them to socialize, but also just be a part of the community, which is so important to overall health, especially mental health,” Clapp said. “It’s a holistic approach to caregiving — helping those folks live the best lives that they can.”
The horse social was the first community event MVCFL has put on since reopening recently, and as far as she can tell, Clapp said, it has been a success. The center plans on doing more public events, and is watching the COVID guidance carefully.
“I personally am a lover of horses, and Misty Meadows does great work. They have already done amazing things with the disability community, so this is something I am excited to continue working with them on,” Clapp said. “It’s a wonderful way for anyone to be a part of the community.”
John Zeisel, founder of the I’m Still Here Foundation, said the goal of these kinds of events is well-being. The foundation sponsors and supports community engagement programs and events for those living with dementia and their loved ones.
“It’s the feeling that you have a purpose. Everyone deserves that feeling,” Zeisel said. “The feeling that you are engaged and active in the world.”
He said that by visiting new places, meeting new people, and having enjoyable and enriching experiences, folks feel more connected to themselves and society. “Seeing the horses, and being asked to brush them and comfort them. All of this is to give people a reason to be alive,” he said. “These types of experiences are important for everybody.”
According to Zeisel, everyone of all ages and abilities should be able to have these experiences, and not consider it “special.”
“The problem we have is that most people count people with dementia and Alzheimer’s out of the equation. They say, ‘Well, I get out in the community, I have a pet, I take walks — they discount that people with Alzheimer’s and dementia have those basic human needs, as well — we all do.”
“Well-being is what we all deserve, being a part of society, having a purpose. The center creates opportunities for people who shouldn’t be considered special — they are what should be normal.”