ProMedica program helps seniors learn about horse care through special pilot project
By DEB WUETHRICH
Four seniors from Provincial House in Adrian spent Friday morning at the Bristle Horse Farm in Tecumseh during the fourth of four sessions of a pilot program designed to involve them with the care and feeding of animals. ProMedica provided funding of $50 per resident per hour for the sessions, which included some classroom instruction as well as hands-on care of horses, donkeys and ponies.
George Kishpaugh, Irene Hanning, Mike Roth and Nancy Farant, also known as the Golden Giddy Up Gang, were happily engaged last Friday in the care of a donkey named Martin and a pony named Artimus. Martin stood quietly, exhibiting a lot of patience as two of the residents combed out his hair. Artimus, a small pony, was a little friskier, nudging Mike in search of some carrots, which were soon provided for the animal.
“How do you like that pony whisker kiss from Artimus?” asked Jan Vescilius, head trainer for Lenawee Therapeutic Riding, and also director of Therapeutic Riding, Inc., of Ann Arbor. Jan explained to the participants that just like people have to work and then be paid, Artimus should wait for a bit for his carrots, or he’d just be looking for more.
During a walk to the center of the arena, Artimus provided a laugh for the seniors and several volunteers working on the project when he laid down and rolled in the dirt, seeming to provide a good challenge for the participants to work on his coat again.
“You need to flick the dirt away with your hand,” said Jan, as she demonstrated and then fitted the seniors’ hands with a grooming implement.
“Since we have done programs for disabled children, we decided to try a similar pilot project with seniors,” said Susan Bacus, from ProMedica. Deb Comstock, a regional manager with ProMedica, is a regular volunteer with Lenawee Therapeutic Riding, which meets at the Bristle Farm two nights a week for seven weeks in the spring and seven weeks in the fall.
“We came up with the idea because we saw that it works with children, why not try it with seniors?” Comstock said. “They just love this.” She said the four participants were ready and waiting in the lobby at Provincial House each day the session was offered. “That’s how excited they are,” Comstock said.
Dr. Howard Pennington, a veterinarian who has been a longtime volunteer in the Lenawee Therapeutic Riding program, spent time Friday instructing two of the seniors who were working with Martin.
“I’ve been pleased with the results and reactions of the program,” he said. “You’ve got to take it beyond just entertainment. They can get that watching TV. I’m pleased that they have remembered what they learned from session to session as we go through the grooming and care. They’ve retained a lot and have been very enthusiastic.”
Vescelius said she has seen a keen willingness to participate within the group, and her instruction has helped the wheelchair users use their upper bodies as they’ve groomed the animals. “I just think it gets people out of their normal space and it’s something different from their everyday world. If we can enhance life — physically, cognitively, and in happiness, that’s what we want to do. I would love to see this continue.”
Following the grooming session, a horse named Magic was brought out and the seniors reviewed the steps to make a horse ready for riding. They also urged their activities director, Shelly Cotton, to get up on Magic for a ride.
Laura and Dan Bristle own the stables, and Laura said the activity gave the seniors something to look forward to every Friday.
“It also gives them a new conversation with friends when they get back to Provincial House,” she said. “What a cool experience this is for people who have lived on a farm or haven’t been around pets for many years.” She said that coordinators are looking at ways they can continue the program, perhaps visiting the assisted living centers during the winter. Other senior living centers now are also inquiring about the activity.
“Jan is so organized and easy to understand as a teacher, no matter what the age or disability,” Laura said. “She just started a program in Ann Arbor called Heroes and Horses, for veterans, and we’d like to start something like that here as well.”
WTVG Channel l3 also sent a crew to interview the seniors during their final pilot program session, and one of the residents prompted tears to come to the eyes of the program’s coordinators as he sort of summed up the experience.
The reporter asked George how he felt when he came to the stables to be with the animals.
Looking directly into the camera, George said, “It feels like I’m back home again.” That was reward enough for all involved.