Small horses, big welcome

KAPAA — Patient Alyssa Schuch rarely reacts or responds, said Josie Pablo, recreation director at the Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital.

That changed Friday when Heather Phelps, director of Healing Horses Kauai, brought over two miniature horses, Sugar Baby and Teensy, for a visit with the hospital’s residents.

“This was very exciting,” said Pablo. “Not only were the residents excited, even the staff disrupted their meeting for an opportunity to visit with the horses.”

As the horses made their way along the narrow walkway, residents beamed when given an opportunity to touch and groom the miniature equine.

“Joe Hashimoto is one of the success stories,” said Pablo. “He’s a taro farmer from Hanalei and is familiar with horses while growing up in Waipa. He’s going home today, but gets a chance to visit the horses before he leaves.”

Hashimoto, a big smile painted across his face, wearing a going-away lei, patiently waited his turn to groom the miniature horse, flanked by volunteers from the Kauai Christian College who happened to be present for their weekly visits for singing and chatting.

Pablo was thrilled when she heard the expression of joy and saw the huge smile painted across Schuch’s face.

“She hardly ever has any response to anything,” said Lalaine Rabaino, a Mahelona nurse who was helping Healing Horses trainer Bernadette D’Amore. “Look at her smile. She loves the horse.”

Phelps’ visit comes following her successful visit to the Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital where the miniature horses elicited similar responses from the Westside hospital’s senior population.

“I was going to do this just once a month on my days off,” Phelps said when Pablo inquired about future visits. “But now, it’s twice a month, and more.”

Pablo said the hospital will also host the Wong’s Traveling Petting Zoo on a trial basis in the very near future to see if the petting zoo could embark on similar therapeutic ventures to hospitals, senior centers and other establishments.

“I’ll volunteer,” said Sheri Keliikuli, who was watching the interaction among the residents and the horses. “I know them (the Healing Horses people), and I’ll help if that’s going to help bring back the horses.”

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