Hug A Horse!

I am a chaplain for a senior residential community in our city. It gives me an opportunity to preach, teach and encourage older adults who are no longer able to participate in their own churches. These friends are receptive and engaging. They express their appreciation by speaking words of affirmation and with warm smiles on their faces. I find this ministry fulfilling because we are doing what God requires, "honoring and encouraging older men as fathers and older women as mothers." It has been said, "This is what 'gospel living' looks like in relation to our elders" (1 Timothy 5:1-2, ESV Bible study notes).

While I was "making my rounds" among the residents and staff the other day, I heard conversation and laughter from individuals gathered in the commons area. As I turned down the hall into the open, I was delighted to see that there were two miniature horses that had everyone's attention. I soon learned these cute little animals were specially trained "therapy horses" with Heartland Mini Hoofs. According to their website, Heartland's purpose is in "bringing happiness, healing, rehabilitation, and comfort to others through equine assisted therapy and activities using miniature horses."
Heartland Mini Hoofs
Taylorville, IL

"Bailey" and "Jasper" were quietly snuggling and silently schmoozing the crowd of seniors that day. It was a neat experience watching the handlers move in and around the residents seated in the room. Some had their forearms wrapped around the horse's head while others were stroking their heads and combing the coarse hair of their manes with their fingers. This human-animal interaction was the essence of the therapy. It was calming to watch. I had seen petting dogs used in therapeutic ways in other nursing centers and schools, but this was my first encounter with a mini horse therapy! The seniors seemed so comfortable in receiving this ministry.

We often speak of the power of "presence ministry" when we talk about grief support. Many of us shy away from direct interactions outside of our comfort zone. We wonder, "Well, what should I say?" But the most important thing is often not what we say in words, but the impact of our presence in the situation. I have received this blessing on many occasions when a friend has driven miles to attend a funeral visitation. I have later said to those same friends, "I will never forget you being there." There is nothing to be compared to the "therapy" of comforting and meaningful touch - a handshake, a hug, a touch on the shoulder. This ministry is only possible by being present. Often, it is just what is needed!

What can you do this week to be present with another person who may need special encouragement? It is not always about words! Mostly, your presence is all that is required!  After this recent experience, I am learning that even "hugging a horse" helps!

Mike Keppler, retired pastor,
active churchman and
doting grandparent.


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