Horses visit seniors inside assisted living center in Oakley |

Horses visit seniors inside assisted living center in Oakley

Wanda Aston, a resident of Elk Meadows Assisted Living & Memory Care Community, feeds a carrot to house-trained horse Casey, left. Casey and her mom Dixie visit the community occasionally to greet residents.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record | The Park Record

Residents at the Elk Meadows Assisted Living and Memory Care Center in Oakley had two very large, four-legged guests pay them a special visit last week.

Peoa resident Wyatt Marchant brought his two horses — Casey and Dixie — to visit with the residents inside the facility on Friday. Elk Meadows offers assisted living, memory care and respite stay for seniors.

The two horses were led into a large common area surrounded by residents. They fed the horses carrots and celery, and let them nuzzle their hands. Some reminisced about their experiences growing up on a farm, while others quietly enjoyed the animals’ presence. Most of the residents were confined to wheelchairs or suffering from dementia. It was the third time Marchant has brought the animals into the facility.

“Horses are just good for the soul and provide feel-good vibes all around,” he said.

Animal-assisted activities are becoming increasingly popular as ways to enhance patients’ quality of life, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Group sessions with the animals create opportunities for patients and facility residents to interact with caregivers, family members and volunteers. Additionally, allowing the animals access to individual rooms provides the opportunity for “non-ambulatory patients and patients for whom privacy or dignity issues are a consideration,” the CDC states.

Nearly two months ago, Marchant began looking for a place where he could provide horse therapy to patients at area hospitals. However, he said many of the hospitals were not open to the idea.

“I contacted, like, four hospitals and they just didn’t know what to do with me,” he said. “They have service dogs and I have heard of miniature horses making visits, but not really service horses.”

At around the same time Marchant was looking for a place he could bring his horses, Kyle Peacock, executive director of Elk Meadows, was looking for someone with horses. Peacock said he was working a shift at the facility and visiting with a woman on hospice care when she told him about growing up on farm. He added, “She desperately missed her horses.”

Peacock said he talked with the woman’s family members, but they didn’t think she was well enough to be outdoors.

“I started calling people like, ‘What can I do about horses?’” he said. “And then literally two days later Wyatt (Marchant) showed up at the front desk saying he has house-trained horses and wanted to bring them in to visit with the community.”

When the horses visit, Peacock said, it “really lights up” the residents, especially those who grew up on farms and surrounded by animals.

“With Alzheimer’s and dementia, your previous memories are the ones that show up the best,” he said. “Short-term memory usually goes first. For example, this one woman grew up on a ranch and grew up around horses, so whenever they come to visit she is calm for the rest of the week. It just brings her back and creates the biggest smile on her face for days.”

After the residents spent nearly an hour feeding the horses, Marchant led Dixie and Casey down the facility’s hallways to meet with the woman who sparked Peacock’s desire to bring them in. The horses were taken to the room of Larue Hanel.

With the help of staff, the two horses were crowded into the tiny room and led straight to the bed where the 93-year-old woman lay.

As she tenderly stuck out her hand to pet Dixie, tears streamed down her face. Staff members said Hanel often tells them about how much she used to ride when she was younger and growing up on a farm.

As Marchant kept a hand on the horses’ reins, he said he felt like it was always the two horses’ purpose to provide therapy to the people they encounter.

“They turned out to be these really calm, brilliant horses,” he said. “I’ve seen what they do for my friends who come out to visit me from the city, and I know what they do for me so I’ve been happy to share that with others who aren’t able to get outside. It’s just about spreading those good vibes all the way around and I’m glad I am able to do that.”

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