The Paw Report, Episode 505 – Mini Horse Therapy
Articles Blog

The Paw Report, Episode 505 – Mini Horse Therapy

August 17, 2019

[music plays]
[no dialogue]>>Kelly Runyon:
When it comes to making people smile, Andra Ebert says all it takes is her small, four-hoofed
companions. Ebert has combined her love of people and
small miniature horses to form an equine therapy visitation program.
She joins us in studio with, well, these special guests and a couple more next.
Stay with us for one memorable Paw Report. [music plays]
Production of the Paw Report is brought to you by…
>>Rameen Karbassioon: Dave’s Decorating Center is a proud supporter
of the Paw Report on WEIU. Dave’s Decorating Center features the Mohawk
SmartStrand Silk Forever Clean carpet. Dave’s Decorating Center, authorized Mohawk
Color Center, in Charleston. Okaw Vet Clinic in Tuscola and Dr. Sally Foote
remind you to properly take care of your pets, and are happy to help support the Paw Report
on WEIU. Okaw Vet Clinic, located at 140 West Sale
Street, in Downtown Tuscola. More information available at
>>Kelly Runyon: Well, I definitely think this is a first for
the Paw Report. We have some very special guests in studio
with us today. We have Andra Ebert, Sophie Zimmerman, and
Ryan Ebert, and they brought along two very special guests.
They have Bailey and Jasper, miniature horses. And they are with the Heartland Mini Hoofs.
It’s an equine therapy program. And we thank you so much for joining us.
I, you know, once we booked this on the calendar, I could not wait for the three of you to get
here today. So, thank you.
>>Andra Ebert: Thank you, we were excited to come.
>>Kelly Runyon: Yes, so Andra, tell us about your background
and how you got started in this wonderful program.
>>Andra Ebert: Well, my background, I’ve been in the helping
industry for a long time. I’m a licensed social worker, a registered
nurse, and I have a master’s degree in gerontology. So, aging is my love of life.
And as far as the horses, about 13, 14 years ago, my daughter began riding, because I did
not grow up with horses. And so, I started to learn about horses, became
very acquainted with them, taking care of them.
And she and I actually opened a barn together, that she still runs.
But I decided when I retired, I was going to have a retirement project.
I had read about using mini horses as a therapy in long term care facilities.
And so, I talked to my husband, and he gave me the green light.
And so, I went and visited a program, and spent several days.
And I actually showed Bailey. They were doing visits, and I went with them
on a visit, and Bailey was one of the horses they took.
They had six. They took Bailey because I was interested
in her. And so, went on the visits, had a blast, and
decided this is something I want to do. And so, came back with two of them, both of
them from Kansas City. Bailey actually is a purebred.
She is one that is triple papered, and Jasper is also papered, because they’re both American
miniature horses.>>Kelly Runyon:
Well, why miniature horses? You know, tell me about Bailey and Jasper,
and why these two.>>Andra Ebert:
Well, I think they’re unique in a long term care facility for a number of reasons.
One, I think they are at a level where their eyes, you know, so I keep their bangs cut.
They’re on eye level with residents, and I think they really enjoy that.
We also do schools, we do Alzheimer’s units, we do special needs groups.
So, I think because of their size, they’re unique, they’re special.
Most people have not touched a big horse. They’re rather scary when they’re large horses.
But these guys, they can touch, they can rub on, and that’s how they’re trained.
They’re trained to allow people to woller on them, basically.
Both of them, to be an American miniature horse, you have to be 34 inches or less right
here at their last hair to be a registered American miniature horse.
Bailey’s 31, and Jasper is 32 at his withers.>>Kelly Runyon:
And they’re just 1 and 3 years old.>>Andra Ebert:
Yeah, she’s 1 and he’s 3, but they are fully grown.
They will not get any taller or bigger than they are now.
They’re done growing.>>Kelly Runyon:
How do they, do they get along well with each other?
>>Andra Ebert: Yes, they do.
They’re buddies. But occasionally, they act like brother and
sister, and they will, you know, bite at each other and kick at each other, and run and
chase each other when they’re in the pasture. Now, when their vests are on, they’re well
aware that we are on a visit. And so, their behavior is what you’re observing
right now. But when that vest comes off, they’re a natural
horse.>>Kelly Runyon:
They’re like little dogs.>>Andra Ebert:
Oh yeah, they run, they jump, they do all sorts of things.
>>Kelly Runyon: Let’s talk about the training.
I mean, you just don’t get a miniature horse, and expect that they’re going to be therapy
horses. Take me through that process when you got
them, and what you had to do, and all the time and energy, and effort.
And I know Ryan and Sophie help with that, too.
>>Andra Ebert: Absolutely.
Horses by nature are a prey animal, so that means other animals try to eat them, whether
it’s coyotes, wolves, pack, those kind of animals try to eat them.
So, as a result they are very skittish. So, our job as trainers is to make them comfortable
and safe, to feel safe with us. As long as we have this rope, as Ryan and
Sophie do, they know that they’re safe because their trainer is with them and going to keep
them safe. To train a horse like this, you start out
when they’re very young. And you start handling them and, like, putting
the halter on, and putting the lead rope on, and walking with them.
At our farm where they live, we actually have wheelchair, we have walker, we have things
we use to simulate, like an oxygen concentrator, those kind of things.
And that’s one of the things Sophie and Ryan both do is they practice with them.
You know, we have someone sit in the chair so they’ll walk up to a wheelchair, because
it’s rather scary for them. Everything is scary for a horse.
>>Kelly Runyon: Well, and too, you know, if somebody’s in
a wheelchair or a bed, naturally they want to go, as I did when I first saw them, they
go for the face.>>Andra Ebert:
Absolutely.>>Kelly Runyon:
And that can, you know.>>Andra Ebert:
This is how everybody goes for the first time. So, one of our jobs as a trainer and a helper,
therapy is really two parts. One part is the animal itself, and the other
part is the person handling the animal, to know how to interact with the resident, to
know how to protect your horse and protect your animal.
Because, most people do this, so you have to watch for eye injuries.
So, the other day, Ryan was in Mason City, and this woman had been petting Bailey.
And she reached over, and Ryan had a shirt on that had a squirrel, and she started petting
Ryan’s squirrel. And so, I said I was awful proud of him because
he just stood there and let her do it. But you know, you have to be prepared for
things like that. As volunteers, they have to know how to deal
with a resident that maybe can’t verbally communicate.
You have to watch body cues. Are they afraid of the animal?
If they are, you want to back off. If, we’ve had residents that have started
crying, but it wasn’t fear or sadness. It was joy.
So, as a volunteer, they have to be able to start reading people’s body language.
>>Kelly Runyon: How do you know when they’re ready?
How did you know when Bailey and Jasper were ready to be, you know, acclimated?
>>Andra Ebert: When they could stand still, just like this,
and when they were very comfortable walking up at the farm during training.
That’s when you know they’re ready to go. And first, you take them along on other visits,
and let them just stand and watch another horse do their job.
Just like training for somebody else. It’s on the job training.
So, you would like, take Jasper and let Bailey watch what he actually does.
And she just stands there. She doesn’t engage with anybody.
She’s watching his behavior.>>Kelly Runyon:
Mmhmm, you like me, don’t you?>>Andra Ebert:
Mmhmm. Now, she’ll give kisses, so if you don’t want
kisses.>>Kelly Runyon:
Huh, I’ve never kissed a horse before.>>Andra Ebert:
She gives kisses.>>Kelly Runyon:
You do give kisses, huh? Well, let’s see.
Will you give any kisses? I don’t think so.
Not to me, and I id put some gum in before this interview, so sorry, Bailey.
>>Andra Ebert: Isn’t her mane soft?
>>Kelly Runyon: Her mane is soft.
I just want to keep petting it.>>Andra Ebert:
Well, one of the things I do is, we actually put coconut oil conditioner in their hair
almost every night, so that it’s soft. Because, if you touch her tail, it’s a little
bit rougher, just like horse hair that we think about.
But their manes and their tails, or their manes and their forelocks there, we try to
keep really soft because that’s where people touch them at.
>>Kelly Runyon: So, take me through the therapy program when
you go to, well you know, a nursing home or a health care center, or a school.
What is the therapy? Is it the touching and the petting?
>>Andra Ebert: It’s the touching and the petting, and it’s
the engagement. Animal therapy has been known to work on emotional,
physical, spiritual. Because, you’ve got residents, especially in the nursing home, that range
of motion, that effort to reach out to pet them in a continuous motion, that maybe they’re
not doing much with their arms to start out with.
The engagement. We have residents that typically don’t come
out of their rooms, will come out to see them. They enjoy them so much because they’re unique.
And when we go in, part of it is I talk to people a little bit about them, about them
being American miniature horses. I tell them about how in the 1800s, they actually
used these guys as work horses. They used them in the coal mines.
They would put them down under the ground because of their height.
They would hook the coal cars to them, and then they would carry them out to the surface.
And so, they were actually work animals for a long time.
Now, most people will use them as carting animals.
They put a cart behind them, and they’ll drive them.
>>Kelly Runyon: You know, they’re standing so eloquently,
but there is a science to why they’re standing this way, is that right?
>>Andra Ebert: There is.
And both Ryan and Sophie get to do that. We practice literally walking and stopping,
so they will stand just like this, so they will stand quietly.
We go into stores. Like, you know, we’ve been in to Rural King,
we’ve been in to Lowe’s, we’ve been in to Farm and Home, where we actually take them
in. And I’ll have one in one hand, and my cart
in the other hand so they, you try to desensitize them to anything they might encounter.
And that’s part of our job. And part of what these guys do as volunteers
is work with them, exposing them to everything. So again, there’s that trust from their face
to the hands that we’ll take care of them. It’s safe.
>>Kelly Runyon: What gives you the most joy about these two?
Is it the animal themselves? Is it the joy that it brings to you?
>>Andra Ebert: My husband will tell you the animal themselves.
But it’s just watching the faces of people when you go in, and seeing the reaction and
the smiles. We were in Pana, and a gentleman, we were
visiting with him, he goes, “I can’t thank you enough because all we do is sit here and
wait to…” And he stopped talking.
And we all knew what he was going to say next. And it was just, you realize what a difference
you’re making for people. It gives them something to talk about.
It gives them something to talk about with their kids and grandkids when they come.
We’re getting ready to do, next week actually is an ice cream social, where the long term
care facility is bringing all the residents’ families, kids, grandkids, down the line,
plus the staff’s kids and grandkids, together, and we’re having an ice cream social.
And these two are going to join them.>>Kelly Runyon:
You know, you probably have story after story, after story, after story.
I would love to hear some of them, because I think that’s what our viewers are interested,
too. Because, it’s changed your life, obviously.
And I think it’s, you know, Sophie and Ryan are young, but you can tell it’s made an impression
on them. They want to help you and go with you.
So, share with us some of the neat stories that you’ve met with some of the clients and
residents.>>Andra Ebert:
One, there’s two or three that really stand out.
We had a lady that’s in an Alzheimer’s unit. And typically, I get down on my knees as I’m
talking to people so I’m eye level. And I was speaking to the lady, and she never
once looked at me, never once engaged with me at all.
She looked at Bailey, and she was talking to Bailey the whole time.
And behind me, I could hear the staff say, “Get the camera, get the camera, get the camera!”
And I was like… Because, typically someone follows us around
and takes pictures to give to families. And so, afterwards I said to the gal, I said,
“What was the big deal with the camera? You’re always with the camera.
She goes, “She doesn’t talk. Her family doesn’t realize she can still talk.
She won’t talk to us.” So, she won’t talk to staff or the family,
but she talked to her. And that’s when you realize it unlocks something
for people. It unlocks an emotion for people.
Had a gentleman in Shelbyville that was ill, he was in the bed.
And Bailey, both of them are trained, if someone’s in a bed, they will walk up to the bed, and
on cue they will lay their head actually on the bed and wait for that person to acknowledge
them somehow. And this gentleman wanted to pet Bailey so
bad, and it took him several minutes to get his hand out to where he could.
And he had one finger, and he could pet her. And he did that for, probably 10, 15 minutes.
And she stood just, would you stop, she stood. Oh, they’ll chew on anything.
I’ll protect your chairs. She, you know, she stood perfectly still and
waited on him to engage with her. And that’s priceless.
We’ve had, I had a lady in Pana, I was at a, it was a meeting, a dinner meeting for
children. I think Ryan went to that one with me.
And there was a young autistic boy. And he would walk by Bailey, and he’s just
take a finger. He wouldn’t pet her.
He had one finger, and he’d take down her body.
And the mother was just amazed that he would even engage with her.
And I have had several calls about families with children on the autism spectrum that
want to come out and work with the horses.>>Kelly Runyon:
Well, and I know that. When we brought them into the studio, the
entire staff. I mean, they’re just…
>>Andra Ebert: They’re a magnet.
>>Kelly Runyon: They’re a magnet.
They just make you feel good. I wish our viewers at home could actually
be in the studio with us because…>>Andra Ebert:
And touch them, sure.>>Kelly Runyon:
And touch them. And you know, they look at you.
It’s like a dog. They look at you very intently.
They smell you. They want, you know, they probably want to
know you, too.>>Andra Ebert:
Absolutely.>>Kelly Runyon:
Do they have a vibe on fear, if they can sense somebody is afraid?
>>Andra Ebert: It’s interesting, and both of them have done
this. I’ve watched it several times.
They will find someone. Usually, we go into a facility, and those
people that can be up are in chairs and wheelchairs in a circle.
And what we do is we go in, I give a small presentation about the two of them, and then
we start a round. Ryan usually goes one way, and I go the other,
or Sophie. And we visit every single resident.
And they always have one resident they find that they like.
And they will go back to that person, and they will stand in front of that person.
And we were there the last time, and Bailey, I couldn’t get her away from this lady.
And you know, she enjoyed it as much as, and then everybody else was jealous because Bailey
was staying with her. But they sense, and you know, I have to explain
to people, they will come up and put their lips on you and feel around, and their nose
because that’s how they recognize things. They don’t have hands to pick up things.
They use their mouths and their nose to check things out.
>>Kelly Runyon: But they sense fear, too.
Do they sense somebody that might be a little scared of them?
>>Andra Ebert: Yeah.
>>Kelly Runyon: You know, it’s like larger horses.
>>Andra Ebert: Sure, they’ll back out.
Horses are scary. You know, you’ve got a big, 100 pound animal.
That’s why these, I think, are so welcoming to people, is because their size, that they
can touch them being this size, and they’re not afraid.
>>Kelly Runyon: You know, you brought Sophie and Ryan with
you today because, you know, what you do takes the help of volunteers.
You’re retired, it’s something that you thought you might do once a week.
But it’s become literally, Andra got out her calendar book, and she showed me the month
of May. And every day of the month is, you’re going
somewhere. Talk about how important the volunteers are,
what they get to do, what they get to learn. And maybe how it, you know, I mean these are
two young folks, that I’m sure this is impressionable.>>Andra Ebert:
I’m hoping so. And I think it has been on both of them.
There is no way I could do this, or any organization could do this, without volunteers.
First of all, you have to have the same number of volunteers as you have horses.
I can’t take both of them by myself. The volunteers, they have to be exposed to
different people and different things. So, Sophie and Ryan don’t smell bad, but they
smell different than I do. So, they’re with different people, and again,
that’s desensitizing them to different people so they will go up to different people.
Our volunteers work with them on exactly what they’re doing now, standing.
Work with them on walking up with people and dropping their head.
Sophie has had the opportunity to clean stalls, to strip stalls.
>>Kelly Runyon: Fun, huh, Sophie?
>>Andra Ebert: Yeah!
So, you know, loading, unloading. It’s a challenge to load and unload them.
Take them different places, like the stores. I laughed today, I said we’ll probably stop
at Rural King and get them out just, again, as exposure for them to make sure they’re
calm, they can walk through a store, and people can walk up to them.
Ryan’s dad, my son was actually with me. We went on a visit, a volunteer that I could
not have done without him. It was with Matthews Children, Matthews kids
in Springfield, which is for homeless kids. They do an after school kind of program.
And there were six little girls there, and they were absolutely fascinated.
And they surrounded Bailey, and they go, “Can we braid her hair?”
>>Kelly Runyon: Aw!
>>Andra Ebert: And I said yes.
And what happened? How was her hair?
>>Ryan Ebert: All stuck up.
>>Andra Ebert: Yeah, it was going every which way.
>>Kelly Runyon: That’s alright, you’re cute.
>>Andra Ebert: But that’s, again, part of the training that
these two do, is to get them used to that, to people wollering on them, basically.
>>Kelly Runyon: You know, do they make good companions?
>>Andra Ebert: Very much so.
Some people can, actually they do have them in their house, like dogs.
You can train them to go knock on the door to go out to use the grass.
They will lay down to go to sleep. So, you can actually have them in the house.
>>Kelly Runyon: What’s the farm like at the Ebert house?
I picture Bailey and Jasper in a big palace, or sleeping in your big king size bed.
>>Andra Ebert: Pretty much.
>>Kelly Runyon: Because they’re pretty spoiled.
>>Andra Ebert: They’re very spoiled.
But they’re not spoiled how people think. You know, people think we give them lots of
treats at home, and we actually don’t. They have the stall in our shop.
As I said, it’s heated in the winter and cooled in the summer.
And then, they have a big pasture area that we let them out into.
They also eat grass at our farm. And Sophie can tell you they eat crop circles
because we actually stake them out like a dog, probably the only livestock you could
stake out. But we have a stake in the grass, and then
they have a 20-yard lead. And we put them on so they eat a perfect circle.
And then, my husband moves the lead. So, we’re not mowing a whole lot right now.
>>Kelly Runyon: It might sound weird, and I’m sure I know
the answer to this, but you can’t ride these two.
>>Andra Ebert: Oh yes, you can.
You can ride a miniature horse, a small child. But we don’t these two, because they have
a specific job. Ryan’s sister is 5, and she just doesn’t understand
why Grandma won’t let her ride Bailey. But yeah, you can buy saddles and actually
ride these guys.>>Kelly Runyon:
How did, and I probably should have asked this earlier in the interview, how did they
become so small? You know, because when I think of, I did a
story on a Clydesdale farm, and those are like 6,000-pound dogs coming your way.
Were they bred years ago?>>Andra Ebert:
Years ago, in the 1700s. And for some reason, Spain seemed to have
started it. I think someone was just looking for a novelty,
and found the two smallest horses they could and bred them down.
There’s actually smaller horses, and they’re called dwarf miniature horses.
>>Kelly Runyon: How big are they?
>>Andra Ebert: About this big.
But like anything, a lot of times when you start genetically modifying something, they
have health issues. These guys, one of the reasons they are fantastic
for therapy and for service animals is they live to be 30 to 35 years old.
So, you know, Bailey at a year old, she’s got 30-some odd years that she could be doing
exactly what she’s doing now. And so, that’s pretty incredible.
>>Kelly Runyon: You anticipate getting any more to add to
Bailey and Jasper?>>Andra Ebert:
I would like to. [laughs]
>>Kelly Runyon: Let’s see, we need to talk to your husband.
>>Andra Ebert: Yeah, we’ve got to have that marital conversation,
don’t we. But yes, I would like to, just because it’s
nice to rotate them in case, you know, one’s off or whatever.
And they can be off. One day, Jasper had hurt his leg, so he couldn’t
go. So, it’s nice to have, you know, an extra.
I would like to start training them so other programs could start.
I think this is a wonderful program. And I’ve had people contact me, asking if
I’d help start their program, and obviously I would.
I’m working with a group right now, we’re trying to get a national organization because
there’s not one specific national organization that would cover therapy horses.
And we’re trying to develop that right now, so that everyone will be held to the same
standard.>>Kelly Runyon:
I was just going to say, as we wrap up here, we’ve got a couple of minutes, the future
for you. And again, if you could say one thing to our
viewers, just to help them understand how important this program is to a community,
or could be to a community, what would you tell them?
>>Andra Ebert: It opens hearts.
It opens hearts of everyone they come in contact with, and brings smiles to their faces.
I have yet to find a person that didn’t smile when they walked in the door.
>>Kelly Runyon: Like I said, I was anxiously watching the
clock, and I walked outside, and I saw you have quite the elaborate setup that you bring
them to different locations. And you just said it.
When I walked out the doors to our station, and I saw the truck and I saw them, I just
lit up. And again, I watched my coworkers when we
brought them in, and they all were just taking pictures, they were smiling.
And I think that sums it up.>>Andra Ebert:
It does.>>Kelly Runyon:
Well, thank you so much for joining us today. Ryan wanted to say, did you want to say something,
Ryan?>>Ryan Ebert:
When they, when we put on the vests, they know it’s time to do the job.
>>Kelly Runyon: And you’re the handler, right?
>>Ryan Ebert: Yeah.
>>Kelly Runyon: Well, we thank you, Ryan, for coming on today.
You’re doing some great work. Andra, thank you.
And Sophie, thanks for volunteering. And of course, we have to say thank you to
these two special ones. Thanks for coming on, Jasper and Bailey.
Will you come over to me one more time? Ryan’s going to give you a little help.
Well, this is a first for the Paw Report.>>Andra Ebert:
Thank you.>>Kelly Runyon:
So, thank you for joining us. And we thank you for joining us for this episode.
We’ll see you again next time. If you’re a veterinarian, trainer, groomer,
specialist, rescue organization, or shelter that would like to partner with the Paw Report
by providing expert guests for the show, please contact us by emailing [email protected], or call
217-581-5956. If you have a topic you’d like to see on the
show or questions for our experts, contact us with those, too.
Did you know full episodes of the Paw Report are on YouTube?
They can be accessed at Then, just go to the Paw Report playlist,
and select the episode you want to see. More information about the show is also available
24/7 on our website at, under the television tab.
Production of the Paw Report is brought to you by…
>>Rameen Karbassioon: Okaw Vet Clinic in Tuscola and Dr. Sally Foote
remind you to properly take care of your pets, and are happy to help support the Paw Report
on WEIU. Okaw Vet Clinic, located at 140 West Sale
Street, in Downtown Tuscola. More information available at
Dave’s Decorating Center is a proud supporter of the Paw Report on WEIU.
Dave’s Decorating Center features the Mohawk SmartStrand Silk Forever Clean carpet.
Dave’s Decorating Center, authorized Mohawk Color Center, in Charleston.
[music plays]

Only registered users can comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *