As an owner of4 therapeutic miniature horses, I have seen the magical effect they have at lifting spirits of the most vulnerable population in our community. The human to animal connection is truly amazing and underestimated, but I've seen it over and over as we visit hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities, and children's shelters.
Minis and Friends is a 501c3 organization that serves children, youth, adults and seniors in the greater Austin area who have mental, physical and emotional challenges and disabilities. There is a magical connection between people and the tiny horse ambassadors. I feel that they plant you firmly in the 'here and now', a space that leaves no room for anxiety and worry for the past, present and future. Whether you are in a nursing home, a special education class or in your wheelchair in the Healing Garden at the Dell Children's Hospital, when a tiny horse puts their head in your lap, they create a place of total focus on the relationship. It's you and a horse. They nuzzle and get close to you. They'll put their head right on the bed in a nursing home or step right along the side of a wheelchair for hugs. It is virtually impossible not to be drawn into the moment. We hear people say, "Oh, they have made my day", "Could you leave them here with us?", "I used to have a horse", "I could hug them all day!" and "I have never seen a horse indoors". (They wear dog booties to walk on indoor surfaces)
We have witnessed someone talking to a horse having not spoken for over a year. There are Alzheimer patients who remember the horses' names, cerebral palsy patients who move to touch the horses and special needs children so filled with excitement that you can barely stand it. And those are the people we visit. The truth is that the 'trickle down' effect touches not only our target audience, but the nurses, the parents and families, teachers, nursing home staff and, in a huge way, the volunteers.
The volunteers go to visits week after week and they keep coming back for more. The experience of presenting the minis where smiles are needed, provides us with something deeply satisfying. When you visit from room to room you show, for this little visit, I am here, I brought you a four legged friend and we care. And then the mini magic happens!
The minis are tiny and travel in my Volvo station wagon. I am a board member, volunteer and mini owner of Wiggins, Fiona and Jooney Belle. Three little magic makers.
Minis and Friends is a family of volunteers. It is simply, the best!
I am a volunteer and mini owner. I enjoy working with the minis to reach into peoples' lives who are isolated, have special needs or facing stress or change because what the minis do is to put everyone into the present. When you are in the moment, there is joy.
The minis are the means to anchor people in the here and now. They are magical. It is very difficult to ignore their magnetism.
One day in a nursing home, a woman doted on my 150 lb mini for about fifteen minutes. She was very happy to have the visit and as we said goodbye and started to walk away, I overheard her say, "Such a nice dog!!!!!"
Much of the time, the minis are welcomed with opened arms. They evoke memories of peoples' experiences with horses they knew in their youth. They produce smiles where there were frowns.
The minis are the catalysts for connecting with anyone. They become the focal point when you present them to others, they remove barriers, such as shyness or the awkward 1st meeting of total strangers. They are like peace offerings, "Look, I brought you a friend who really wants to say 'Hi' to you". That's all it takes. They are the 'foot in the door'.
What we are saying by sharing the minis is, "We care. We are all here because we want to be here and we brought you a friend"
We are all volunteers in Minis and Friends and growing in leaps and bounds! We have added monthly visits to Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas weather permitting and have returned to quarterly visits at the Shelters for Abused and Neglected Children. We aim to add 2 more hospitals in Austin in 2015 and fingers are crossed to partner with the cancer facilities for adults and seniors. It brings joy not only to those we visit on Saturdays with the little horse therapists but also to all of us who attend the visits. Because of Minis and Friends I can honestly say I have met seniors over 102 who remember the minis by name and look forward to their visits, children and youth who need an extra smile and happiness and what is possibly better 'then walking a miniature horse!" .. Love this organization and all that it does for people of all ages with special needs in the greater Austin area - the miniature horses give willingly up themselves - unconditional love.
Since the day we sat around a kitchen table in late 2006, Minis & Friends has grown beyond anything we could have imagined that day. The minis continue to travel around Austin and surrounding area to visit those who need their gentle touch. Special needs schools, Alzheimer's facilities, children's hospitals and shelters and rehab units are among the various places we go. From our humble beginnings, Minis & Friends has grown into an organization with a big impact. We were named one of the Five Who Care by KVUE TV for Outstanding Community Service!
I continue to enjoy working with Minis & Friends. As a co-founder, I have been with them since that first meeting around the kitchen table where we dreamed of a miniature horse organization just like the one we see now at Minis & Friends. I work mostly as a virtual volunteer from my home 2 hours away but look forward to those special times when I get to be with the minis and the people in person. Favorite times throughout the year include when we expand our extended family by hosting Boot Camps, teaching others from all around the US and Canada how to form their own non profit following our Equine Guided Interaction model. I also enjoy seeing our wonderful volunteers in action as they work with the minis where they can make a big difference in the lives of those they visit. Minis and Friends would not exist without their hard work.
Minis and Friends offers a wonderful equine experience. We started the group to bring the gentle caring touch of the minis into the lives of those in need. We visit varied groups within the Austin area, including children in hospitals, chidren's emergency shelters and those in special needs schools. I love watching fearful children with autism open up as the minis stand quietly by and the volunteers gently guide them to interact. Within the span of a few minutes, the fear has often faded and they tranform from leaning back on their teacher in fear, to wandering on their own from mini to mini, gently stroking their manes. A new addition of Mini vests on each mini with the M&F name and the name of the horse has been a great addition as well as a teaching tool for the teachers helping the children interact personally with the horse. By the end of the visit, the kids are calling each mini by name and interacting closely with them, using social skills they are practicing with their new mini equine friends. My personal favorites are visits at Memory Care centers. The minis make break-throughs to reach seniors at whatever level they can comprehend. Often, the senior will start talking about a favorite horse from their childhood as if it was the present day. I love listening to their stories and watching their faces open up as they talk. Minis and Friends is spreading our unique method of Equine Guided Interaction by training others who travel to Austin from as far away as Alaska and Canada to learn our methods and return home to start their own organization. This semi -annual Mini Bootcamp training offers hand-on training and instruction in very small groups to ensure personal attention. I look forward to watching Minis and Friends grow in the future!
As a board member and Co-Founder of Minis and Friends, my passion for the work of the little horses and Lewis (the mini donkey) continues to advance upward. We have 4 main core mini-horse families (Gil & Sally Iwanski; Kim Sullivan; Paul & Sherry Montoya; and Cathy, Cliff & Colton Howard) that have been with us over the years and share the same passion. As a weekend only working non-profit because most of us work full time or attend college/school - we have very dedicated volunteers (about 25 currently) and we usually have volunteer training monthly. We have very blessed this year with social media help from the Texas Tower PR student team, UT Journalism students doing a documentary on us and a new website design coming soon (donated from DazzleMedia).
We also have filled our May Mini Boot Camp (teaching others to go home and open EGI (Equine Guided Interactions) non-profits too) and will have another one in October this year. Since 2007, 9 non-profits and several folks who just take minis out and about, that have attended our Mini Boot Camp are still operating and doing wonderful by bringing these big smiles to people with special needs by the little horses and donkeys. We have sister organizations from Calgary, AB, Canada and 8 states.
We always say "once you have your moment" you are hooked. And I have had many, many moments - that keeps me continually wanting to reach out more to other organizations and facilities to bring to them the magical little horse/donkey therapists that bring unconditional trust, love, hope, healing and BIG SMILES to the many people we meet along the way.
Give Minis and Friends a try or sponsor us - you'll love it! As we do!
I am the Austin co-founder who runs the general operations and also a horse owner of 3 minis - MasterCard, Remington and SeanMonet. I am a volunteer as all of us are in Minis and Friends. I am proud to say in 2012, we have accomplished so many goals and reached so many new children and adults to bring hope, healing and laughter with the work of the little horses. We have handed out so many of our Mini Readers made possible by the Baxter Grant in 2011 - what a delight it is to have the children come out for a visit with the minis bringing their books! We have added 10 new facilities since January and 5 new support events. We have also have had 2 Mini Boot Camps - one in March and the other in May - and have trained upcoming non-profits in Alaska (Knee High Mini Tours), Canada (Boo's Hooves), Kentucky (HeavenSent Half-Pints) and Massachusetts (Minis and Friends Massachusetts) to bring Equine Guided Interactions (EGI) to their soon-to-be non-profits. Minis and Friends is rich in volunteers and our family of friends in the facilities and support events we work with. I look forward to many more new and old visits for the remainder of 2012.
Minis and Friends was created in 2007 to extend the growing need of miniature horse "Equine Guided Interactions (EGI) " programs (therapy) in the greater Austin Metro area. We started the organization with 9 friends and miniature owners and worked primarily on weekends free of charge to most facilities and support events. We developed our program of EGI and teach it to others in other states and cities in our annual Mini Boot Camp, a hands-on 4-day extensive workshop in Austin, TX.
Our non-profit model is unique as the minis are not owned by the non-profit - but instead by mini owners or volunteers who become mini owners to bring indescribable smiles to all we meet. We train them and their little horses/donkeys to work with us in the communities.
We began the organization in early 2007 with 6 minis and 4 owners and today we have 17 minis and 8 owners. We reach deeper into other counties now to include Bastrop, Cedar Park, Dripping Springs, Round Rock and other towns along the way.
To this day, most visits are free and we use our form of creative fundraising to raise the much needed dollars for our Equine General Liability Insurance for every visit and event for all minis working and to keep us on the road!
Minis and Friends was a dream for a way to give our time and love to people who needed us. The reason that we chose to have miniature horses to help us was because we actually witnessed many who responded to our precious horses in a positive way. Perhaps in a way that nothing else could ever do. As owners of the horses and one of three volunteers, we were blessed watching changes in those very ones that we visited. The horses struted their stuff! I personally saw a lady, in the latter stages of Alzheimer's disease, who opened her eyes and her clinched fists to touch the mane of a horse. I saw a hundred children who were on the brink of making life changing mistakes, respond to my mini by touching, talking to, and of all things, braiding the mane and the tale of a loving animal. We ran out of mane, before everyone got to braid! We saw miracles in the short time that we were with people who needed time with an animal. That is what has kept me loving the work that we have been priviledged to do for others. I am a co-founder. With my heart and soul, I believe that there is no better gift than what Minis and Friends can give to others. And in these times of trying to profit as a person or business, our non-profit organization profits from the smiles and happiness that only our minis can give.