Sweet mini therapy horses help cheer up elderly dementia sufferers

Roger Seitzmeir of Tennessee, US, has worked with the elderly from a young age.

He eventually turned it into his career and open a nursing home last year, where the 50-year-old works with a unique kind of therapy animal.

With 30 years of professional horse training experience under his belt, Roger has started using mini horses Spirit and Sonic to cheer up the elderly.

Roger now also brings Spirit and Sonic into local hospitals and nursing homes where he works with patients who have Alzheimer’s and dementia.

He said: ‘I opened Fireside Home Care because I believed that I could help more people this way.

‘We decided to incorporate the therapy horses because of the tremendous joy that they bring, as well as their peaceful energy.’

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Roger had previously always thought the enjoyment horses brought was specific to him because it was his passion, but when he realised the feeling was universal, it made him determined to spread the joy.

‘Our visits currently focus on the elderly and those in memory care facilities,’ he said, ‘however, we are hoping to start branching out to the local hospitals for whoever could benefit.

‘The main thing that I look for in a miniature horse, or any animal, that will be used for therapy is its temperament and how it reacts to stressful situations.

‘Training the animals is entirely dependent on each animal’s ability to learn, but the training process is never-ending, and we are constantly working with the ponies to make sure that they are capable of handling any situation that we put them in.

‘The process that we use in training is utilising positive reinforcement and using voice and caress as rewards.

‘We cannot use treats because we want to ensure that they never associate human touch around their mouth as potential food, minimizing the risk of an elderly person unknowingly getting bitten.

‘We also work on exposing the ponies to as many environments and atmospheres as possible. This includes them being comfortable with walking on carpets with loud designs, crossing wooden or metal bridges, and going up or downstairs.

‘Another thing we have to get them comfortable with is wheelchairs, hospital beds and all sorts of mobility devices.’

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