When Stacy Rolfe first met Banks, she knew he was special.
One of 17 rescued miniature horses that now live on her family’s sprawling suburban property, R&R Ranch in Wildwood, the little white horse was in terrible physical shape when he first arrived from Arkansas, where he was used for pony rides. He had been badly neglected by his owners and abused by other horses. But she could clearly see that poor treatment had not changed his affectionate, peaceful disposition.Once he had regained his good health, Rolfe began the process of having Banks certified as a therapy horse by the American Miniature Therapy Horse Association [AMTHA]. Horses are evaluated according to a list of health, grooming and behavior standards, including being desensitized to loud noises, having the ability to be approached from any side, being able to navigate around obstacles and equipment, and maintaining a calm demeanor in a wide variety of stressful situations.
After many weeks of training, Banks passed his AMTHA qualification tests. Rolfe soon arranged his first therapy visit to Stonecrest of Wildwood Senior Living, shortly after the community opened its doors this April.
She now takes Banks to Stonecrest twice a month, where he interacts one-on-one with residents in both the assisted living and memory care areas of the community. The residents pet him, talk to him and brush his mane and forelock. Some residents sing to him.
One man, who is nearly 100 years old, tells the same story every time she and Banks visit, about riding up and down nearby Wild Horse Creek Road on his own horse many decades ago. “Just for that period of time, the residents are able to recall these special memories, and it really gives them a bright spot in their day … That, to me, is huge,” she said.
“It’s very therapeutic for the residents to have Banks come in,” agreed Patty Durfee, Stonecrest of Wildwood’s life enrichment director. “The hands-on interaction is wonderful for both their emotional and sensory needs. Seeing Banks sparks a lot of memories for many of them, either from where they grew up on farms or raising their own children.”
The visits also stimulate the horse’s mind and give him something different to do, Rolfe said. At this point, though, Stonecrest is Banks’ only therapy commitment away from home – both because of the preparation required and for his own well-being. Before each visit, he gets a bath and extensive grooming, is fitted with special non-slip shoes and a “potty bag,” and is transported in the ranch’s custom van.
“It’s a big endeavor to get over there and to come back, and I don’t want to overextend him … he gets bored and worn out. We are very respectful of his time, too,” she explained.
However, the Stonecrest residents’ visits with Banks may soon include one to his home as well. Durfee said a future outing is in the planning stages, potentially early next year, for residents to visit Banks and the Rolfe barn’s other occupants at R&R Ranch.