“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”- Winston Churchill. Animals have long been recognized as therapeutic for people, and over the past few decades that awareness has increased. From the 1800s when Florence Nightingale noticed the benefits small pets had on children and adults in their recovery, modern day use of animals provides a range of therapeutic benefits.
By Melissa Anderson
Residents of care facilities are often stressed or depressed. When animals can be brought in to visit with their owners, the benefits to the elderly resident is very noticeable. The interaction between patient, pet and pet owner encourages a decrease in depression and increases self-esteem. This interaction is calming, reduces anxiety and improves a patient’s overall psychological state. Locally, Leon Pederson of LbarP Equine Ranch brings the joy of horses and the benefits of animal-assisted therapy to assisted living and nursing home facilities in the area.
“The visits started a few years ago with the previous owner, Heidi Witzel, and I just carried on the tradition,” Pederson said.
LbarP Equine Ranch provides boarding, riding lessons, therapeutic visits (either at the ranch or to a secure facility), and, in the near future, therapeutic riding with a trained counselor. Pederson wishes to provide equine therapy to all walks of life.
“Whatever mental health issue you are having or if you just want to come out and get something off your chest and go for a fun ride- we are here to make people smile,” Pederson shared.
The horses that Pederson brings to the residents for visits have not undergone any formal training as therapy animals, but that doesn’t mean they don’t provide the same relief as a trained animal would. Pederson ensures that horses and, sometimes dogs, are the calmest and friendliest animals he can bring.
“The residents like their daily routine, but something sparks in them when something big and new happens at the facility. Having LbarP Equine Ranch come sparks something in the resident that definitely shows on their faces,” explained Kayce Larson, activity director at Maple Manor Care Center.
Specific benefits of pet therapy include: improvement of motor skills and movement, decreased feelings of isolation, improved social skills and verbal communication, decreased monotony and boredom, and improved overall emotional outlook. Moreover, visiting with a pet stimulates endorphin release, decreases blood pressure and may improve cardiovascular health.
“Animals, in general, are great for a person’s health, and in addition to seeing the horses, this activity gets our entire group outdoors which is also great for their health,” Brittanie Mostad, administrator at Osnabrock Community Living Center, said.
Pederson believes that “happiness leads to healthy lives”. Having been around horses for the most of his life and having his own horses for the last 9 years, Pederson has personally benefitted from his horses by receiving unconditional love and support. Pederson knows that animals take away stress and the pains in life.
“The type of happiness and joy you receive from an animal is like no other, and it stays with you a long time,” Pederson said.
The residents at both Maple Manor Care Center and Osnabrock Community Living Center look forward to the special visits from LbarP Equine Ranch when they come to the facility. Residents at both locations have an activity calendar to help keep them engaged, but days leading up to a visit from LbarP Equine Ranch are filled with excitement. Larson shared that it’s always the talk of the facility after the horses have left. The appreciation that someone is willing to bring their animals to visit the residents was also noted by Mostad.
“It brings joy to all of us to see the interaction between residents and the animals. It’s interesting hearing everyone reminisce about growing up with horses and different animals,” Larson said.
“It’s amazing to hear the stories of their growing up with horses and seeing pictures of when they had them- so many great stories. The joy the residents get out of interacting with the animals is amazing and contagious. I’m truly lucky to be able to bring my animals to these homes and share the joy they give me,” Pederson shared.
The ability to easily converse with the residents about their memories and share stories is one of the reasons that the visits from Pederson and his horses are so welcome at Maple Manor and Osnabrock Community Living Center. During the course of a visit, Pederson converses with each person to get to know them and teach them about the horses. At Maple Manor, Larson shared that Pederson has “definitely helped with getting the residents out of their shells”.
“Leon is so great, not only with the horses but the residents. He brings the horses right up to each resident, encourages them to pet or feed the horses and also shares stories and information regarding the horse or animal he has with him,” Mostad shared.
Both the Maple Manor Care Center and Osnabrock Community Living Center appreciate Leon Pederson and others of LbarP Equine Ranch for providing residents with the opportunity to see and interact with the horses and “are so thankful for Leon’s willingness to do this for us”.