Mini horses help in a big way

Brushing the long white mane of Sunny, a rural Waynesfield woman talks about how her miniature horses are fulfilling her dream to help people through therapy and literacy programs she created.
Tava Ridenour, president of Mini Adventures Inc., a miniature horse therapy and literacy program which travels to nine Ohio counties to provide its non-profit services, said even though she dreamt that one day she would be able to offer something like this to help others, she never imagined how big it would become.
“I never thought it would get like this, God really blessed me,” Ridenour said as she tended to her miniature horses on an off day at her farm on Akers Road. “Having minis was something I wanted to do for years.”
Once her children had graduated and were done showing horses in open shows and 4-H, Ridenour explained she was finally able to pursue her passion.
“The goal was always to help people,” the former volunteer for an equestrian therapy program in Cridersville said. “To see a horse walk into a room, makes people’s days.”
This has been her experience since before she began her own program with the miniature horses.
Ridenour and her horses made 15 visits when the program was just beginning in 2010. In 2011, they made 40 visits. That number doubled last year and this year they are stretching out even further to more counties with more horses — she has 10 now that travel with her to different places and two more, plus a donkey, to soon be added.
“It’s been a real blessing getting to help people in so many different ways,” Ridenour said. “I love these horses. I love what I do and I just want to help as many people as I can.”
Ridenour said because miniature horses grow no taller than 38 inches — Mini Adventures uses only horses 34 inches and smaller in its programs — they may be brought inside a variety of facilities and right up to a patient’s bedside. Many will live into their late 30s and they can weigh between 125 and 315 pounds. They are cared for the same as larger horses, they just eat less and take up less space.
“A miniature horse’s conformation is equivalent to that of a full-sized horse and not that of a pony,” Ridenour said. “They come in a variety of colors and are calm, quiet, gentle animals that enjoy attention.
“Their non-intimidating natures help form extraordinary bonds with people of all ages,” she said.
Run by volunteers, Mini Adventures offers a hands-on approach to therapy and literacy using the mini horses as a tool, Ridenour explained.
The program is funded completely by donations and proceeds from fundraisers. While they have begun to apply for grants, the process is competitive. They also would be open to corporate sponsorships.
A board of directors with diverse backgrounds oversee operations and Ridenour said they are helpful in getting her thinking about things she may not have considered.
Miniature horse therapy began in the 1980s, but not in this area. Ridenour said it has taken people time to grasp the concept.
As therapy tools, miniature horses are taken to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, rehabilitation centers, hospitals, hospice, special needs facilities, court rooms, children services, veterans facilities, and various learning disability programs, to provide a holistic and gentle approach to therapy, as explained in a Mini Adventures brochure.
“Mini horses ease anxiety and stress and they provide comfort and joy through the human-animal interaction,” Ridenour said. “Mini horses educate, inspire and motivate people they come in contact with.”
As literacy ambassadors, mini horses provide a way to encourage the discovery and desire for reading, according to the program brochure.
“The mini horse becomes a visual, tangible, physical connection to reading for each child,” Ridenour said.
She said they also provide a non-judgmental audience with which children may explore their reading skills.
“The mini horse’s disposition and emotional bond can encourage people of all ages to overcome obstacles that one would never think would be possible,” Ridenour said.
She begins working with horses she plans to use in her program a year before taking them out on visits and once they are traveling with her, their first few stops are short. When her horses are at home and not working, she said she lets them be horses.
“I want them to like what they do,” Ridenour said, adding that she has had a couple horses that didn’t.
When that is the case, she finds them new “forever homes.”
Ridenour said she has built good connections with people who know what she is looking for so they are able to recommend horses to her that seem like good fits — ones that aren’t mouthy and don’t like to nibble or lick and those that don’t mind being petted or handled.
“Most love the attention and like traveling,” Ridenour said.
Through her program, Ridenour has observed that the horses can sense things in different situations.
“They kind of know what someone needs,” Ridenour said.
Along with her on her visits Ridenour brings brushes and barrettes, and even chalk, things that people can use to take an active role in their therapy time with the horses.
While Ridenour would like to see her program expand, she said she would like to see that done more by getting into new facilities, so they can help more people, rather than adding more types of programs or therapy. She models what she is doing off other programs throughout the country.
Ridenour said she also would like to find a way to extend the programs further into the year. Because of the weather, the season now runs from May through mid-October.
Her newest horse, a rescue horse that had been neglected, has served as the inspiration for a book geared toward children with different challenges, and his pasture buddy, which Ridenour also is acquiring, is to be the subject of another book for caretakers and family members of those facing challenges.
Ridenour said from seeing a woman speak who had not talked in years to a woman unable to move the right side of her body after a stroke reach across her body, she has seen what the horses can do.
“With Alzheimer’s patients you can see in their eye that connection,” Ridenour said. “It’s hard to keep your composure at times.
“Through my own experiences and those of friends in other states, what we have witnessed is nothing short of miraculous.”