CENTRALIA, WASH. — Mini horses Lakota and Chicky bring big smiles, laughter and songs to residents of Sharon Care Center in Centralia. Professional horse trainer Victoria Smith started the non-profit Visiting Hooves program in 2015. She discovered the need while visiting her own parents in a nursing home.
"It really bothered me how so many people looked so lonely. Nobody ever came to visit them and I thought maybe I could bring horses to visit them."
The horses--now joined by therapeutic rabbits--have made 250 visits to care facilities in the past three years. They've made friends from Seattle to the Oregon state line.
Victoria says her favorite part of the day is visiting people in memory care, "Everyone here is so desperate for a visit. They hug the horses, they kiss them, they love the animals and I love to see that. I like to draw out the ones that don't really want to talk to anyone anymore."
Marth Sweeney is especially happy to see the horses, who clip clop down the halls in brightly colored tennis shoes.
"I like them because I'm an old rancher," she says. "Bringing these ponies in to see us is good medicine. You get lonesome for these kinds of things."
The horses have a special, quiet presence with the residents, especially those in memory care.
"I think they're telepathic," Victoria Smith says. "I think they can connect with people who can't actually talk anymore."
At the end of every visit, one of the horses, Chicky, is set free to amble down a hallway to the front desk. There's a treat waiting for her there. A cup of carrots.
Visiting the residents of Sharon Care Center is rewarding for everyone.