All animals are trained for two years to become accustomed to human contact.
Honor, the miniature horse, excels at My Little Pony when it comes to cheering up the sick. Honor, who weighs 90 pounds and is less than 3 feet tall (he won’t grow much taller), is one of 25 miniature horses owned by Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses, which visits 45,000 sick children and adults annually.
All animals are trained for two years to become accustomed to human contact, including riding elevators and entering rooms. Honor will join the Rapid Response Team to comfort people in times of crisis after completing this course with honors.
“Everyone seems to light up when an animal enters a situation or a room”, says chief executive Jorge Garcia-Bengochea. Therapeutic animals lower blood pressure and increase endorphins in patients, he adds, and they also make people happy. 8-year-old Christopher Vasquez, the patient who met and stroked Honor last week at Mount Sinai.
“I think it’s really cool that the horse went inside and visited the hospital,” says the teenager from Queens.
“But next time I want a monkey!” Nieves Guaman, Christopher’s mother, says the meeting brought back fond memories of their homeland.
“We are from Ecuador, so the horses are much bigger there,” she explains. “Nevertheless, I am happy to see my son smiling”.
The tiny horse is making good progress in his training. “Honor eats all day – foods like hay and grass are always on the menu”, explains Garcia-Bengochea.
“When he needs to go to the toilet, he signals with his front right hoof.” Honor lives on a farm in downtown New Jersey when he’s not working. Just don’t feed him carrots: “It’s not the best food choice for the digestive system”, says Garcia-Bengochea.