Miniature horses work to open hearts in Sonora at Splendido - Tucson Local Media: Aging Well

Miniature horses work to open hearts in Sonora at Splendido

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Posted: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 4:00 am

Stirring up a whinny of commotion, the beloved miniature horses from Little Hooves & Big Hearts equine therapy non-profit organization once again visited residents of Sonora, the onsite health center of Splendido, an all-inclusive community for adults 55 and better in Oro Valley.  

The semi-annual visits by the miniature horses, are highly anticipated by Sonora residents, who have participated in this innovative therapeutic experience for the past several years. During this unique one-on-one therapy program, residents interact with the horses at their own comfort level: petting the horses’ manes, grooming them, or simply enjoying watching the horses interact with others.

“Residents and family members are always very excited and often surprised to see the ‘Little Hooves’ coming up the elevator or into the living room,” said Gail Rankin, administrator of Sonora at Splendido. “This experience meets the needs of residents on many levels and is one of the best attended events that we have -- with nearly 100 percent participation,” said Rankin.

According to Little Hooves & Big Hearts, which was founded in 2006, equine therapy benefits overall physical and emotional well-being and generates greater self-confidence. By creating connections with horses, equine therapy is thought to change the demeanor of the individuals by engendering trust and loyalty, transitively fostering inter-personal connections as well.

“We come to Sonora at Splendido more than any other residence. The staff are involved, loving, and caring,” said Tammy Mockbee, Executive Director and Lead Equine Therapist of Little Hooves and Big Hearts. “You can tell there’s a very special energy there and the horses read that.”

Many hospice centers and assisted living communities use miniature horses to comfort and provide animal-assisted therapy for their residents. The animal’s small size and even temperament, mean that the miniature horses can be touched and petted by residents who may not have much mobility, or might be confined to a wheelchair.  

In larger settings, the use of full-size horses for equine, or hippotherapy as it is sometimes called, has improved the balance of older adults, specifically that it positively affected their balance front to back and side to side. Because hippotherapy significantly improves the static balance of healthy older adults, it also reduces their risk of falling.

In other reports on the success of equine therapy, residents who have had memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease have often recounted incidences from their own childhoods growing up on farms. In fact, AARP recently named a mini-horse named “Magic” its Most Heroic Pet for her work with patients in hospitals and hospices in the Northern Florida area.

Providing innovative therapy solutions and ideas to its programs and residents is just one of the ways that Sonora at Splendido continues to shine. Sonora offers assisted living, memory support, and skilled nursing care, along with rehabilitation services, short-term respite stays, and hospice care in surroundings that are intimate and residential in character. Care is modeled on whole-person wellness, which gives attention to six dimensions: social, intellectual, physical, spiritual, emotional and vocational. To visit Sonora at Splendido or receive more information, call 878-2612 or visit online at

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