ittybittyhorses

Learning Curve

Narrated by Kate

To give you a bit of background about me: I started out a “new” horsewoman. I spent my suburban childhood and college years without a single animal companion! (GASP!) The only animals we had in our home were a few fish … and they only lasted a few weeks before my dad tried to clean the tank. (Sorry dad!) I came home from school to an empty fish tank - so, fish were out. On top of that, my parents could never agree on a size of dog they wanted: dad wanted a great pyrenees like he had grown up with, and mom wanted a small dog that didn’t bark or shed… 🤔 (basically she wanted a stuffed toy) - so we never actually had animals.

Meeting horses for the first time was a bit intimidating for me. Honestly - just being on a farm with 6 dogs was a shock to me. But, in a sense I think that helped me in my training abilities. I was a clean slate. We have people of all abilities contact us, some have had horses (like Lisa) for practically their entire life. Others, have spent their life around horses, but have never owned any. Still others, have extensive experience with dogs but want to get involved with horses, and a few are just like me.

I’ll share one of my favorite learning stories, that may help open your eyes to some lessons your trainers have been trying to teach you.


Denver & the Scary Grate

Denver

We were out training in downtown Oxford. It was a gorgeous day, years ago, where we had visitors who were purchasing horses shadow us to get a feel for how we train our horses. We had started writing down our training material but didn’t have seminars available yet. Downtown Oxford has a nice piazza area where you can often hear bands playing and a nice lawn area where students were doing their homework and relaxing in the grass.

Steps are a big deal for horses, we all know that. But, try concrete steps with a grate at the bottom of them for drainage. I want to say we had Denver and Dallas out to train together. Dallas - like the champ he always is - walks carefree over the grate and up the four wide steps to the platform. Denver, starts to follow Dallas, but notices this strange grate and plants his feet. I squat down on the stairs (boo-boo #1) and give him a little pressure to move forward. He resists, so I let up on pressure to let him regroup. His head bobs down to smell the grate and I apply pressure again. He pulls back a bit but I “hold my ground” (boo-boo #2) and keep pressure to see if he will come forward. Sure enough - he caves into the pressure. But, did you notice boo-boo #1 was my squat? He caves into the pressure and jumps towards me. Practically on top of me. … Well… I was in shock. Lisa came over and took Denver so I could stand up and regroup.

Red in the face, I started to think, “there is no way I can handle horses!” I take Dallas from Lisa and she goes back at it with Denver. Remember that key that horses learn in pictures - that is NOT the kind of picture I want Denver using every time he sees stairs. Lisa takes him around the ramped sidewalk, back into the grass (careful to avoid stairs) and talks her way thru doing this again with Denver.

Keep moving, forward motion is always better. If he stops to smell the grate, which he thinks is a big black hole, let him, then turn around, regroup and head forward towards the steps again. Walk NEXT to him, say “step” and continue forward as if there is nothing out of the ordinary. If you are nervous, the horse will pick up on that. If they stop, turn around and try it again.

Low and behold, after giving him a second to smell the grate, turning around to regroup and walking towards the steps again; Denver took a leap over the grate and walked right up the steps. She continued this movement a few more times until the leap turned into a slightly elevated step. We end training on a positive note then walked back towards the trailer.


The Learning Curve

I am constantly learning! I don’t think I know near enough about how horses’ think or perceive the world. I do know for a fact - you can only get better if you practice. Learn from your mistakes, and create ground-rules for what to do in certain situations. Sure, I came into this with the least knowledge of all of us, but I think it has truly made me appreciate the bond I share with all the animals I have “started from the bottom” with. The relationship I have with Denver is quite a unique bond now, because we have made mistakes together and grown thru them. I’m thankful for my learning curve and hope to continue learning from each horse I have the pleasure of training with.

Tips for a Great Visit #2

Great Facility Visits

When you make visits to over 75 assisted living facilities, you see a lot and learn a lot. We began to put together a list for activities directors so they could be prepared for the horses when we arrived. The list of tips was handed out during the pre-visit; we wanted to keep our staff and horses as well as the residents safe.

REMEMBER YOUR PRE-VISIT!

Being the directions and map genius of the group; Kate would make the pre-visit. She drove to the facility about a week or two in advance to meet the activities director and hand them a pre-visit packet with written documents about who we are, what all our handlers are required to go through and health certificates for all the therapy horses. We also include information about what a typical donation amount would be and why we need the donation, our W-9 form and tips to make the visit safe and enjoyable for everyone involved.

Tips for a Great Visit #1

A while back we posted our first tip for a great visit: #1 During every visit we provide for your facility, please have an activities director or staff member escort our teams for the entirety of the visit. If our team is left unattended for any reason we will terminate the visit. We make this explicitly clear during the pre-visit to make sure we are not trapped in a lockdown unit or walk into a quarantined room without prior knowledge. Having someone who is familiar with the residents escort you through the facility is a life-saver. They know the patients well enough to let you know who may have an aggressive tendency, who might bite or grab, and alert you to that before you enter the room. They will also know all the door codes to lockdown units and - if there were any issues, could be another set of eyes. If you plan to bring more than one team in for a visit, make sure there is an escort with each team; always err on the safer side.

Tips for a Great Visit #2

This tip is also very important during your pre-visit. The second tip for a great visit: #2 Determine who we will visit and if we are visiting a group or individuals. Make sure you talk thru a plan at the pre-visit with the activities director before you arrive the day of with the horses. Remember too, if you decide to visit this facility once a month that you can rotate visitors; one month a group visit, the next month switch to individualized visits. This way, you can visit with different patients and bring various horses. The residents always enjoy meeting new horses; but be prepared for residents to learn their names and ask for them the next time!

Check the Surroundings

When you get to the facility on your pre-visit, it is a good idea to “scope out the space”. At your pre-visit, discuss where you can park your vehicle and where they would like you to enter and exit. Many facilities will “cone off” an area the day of our visit. Typically, the activities director will have an area in mind for you to visit with their residents. Here are some things to think about when looking at a room (or patio area) for a therapy horse visit:

  • most of the group visitors will likely be in wheelchairs which will require extra space and the need to move around,

  • see how the sun or light exposure is coming in, and look for shadows,

  • point out any tight spaces,

  • take not of the flooring and/or plants in the room,

  • for patio area - look for grass, and

  • locate any medical equipment and placement.

Make sure to look for things as you walk through the building that might be new to your horses (ie: a bird cage) and add that to your training list. If you are asked to use an elevator, note the small differences between this one and others your horse may have been exposed to. For us, an elevator is an elevator; but for horses, even one detail that is different - makes it a new experience.

REVIEW AND MAKE IT CLEAR

When you’re finishing your pre-visit, make sure you review with the activities director the details of the visit. If you have decided the facility will have a group visit to start - that is the plan. Let the director know the type of visit determines the horses that you will bring so changes cannot be made. We are very firm with the idea that “The Plan is the Plan” and making changes at the last minute may mean that their visit will be shortened or canceled.

Choosing A Therapy Horse

Some of the most frequent questions we are asked are, “Would my horse make a good therapy horse,” and “How do you evaluate a horse for therapy?”. As easy as these questions may sound there is NO easy answer. You may ask yourself, “why is it so hard to answer such simple questions?” The answer will vary for each individual horse and its handler. The experiences and backgrounds of each horse vary greatly, as does the experience of each handler; it isn’t safe or logical to say that there is a set of rules to follow. 


Just like you, I am in love with horses and find it hard to resist a new horse. The personality of any horse away from it’s herd and normalcy is harder to predict, and could easily change when in a new handler’s hands. Good breeders will keep the integrity of the miniature horse breed, have established personality and size consistency. I pick a horse because I like his/her coloration, I also have a list of reputable breeders who I work with who know the personality I look for.



Horse Age

There are pros and cons of choosing a horse of any age for your program. We have brought in horses like Annabelle and had her out doing therapy visits within 2 weeks of being born. Others like Denver came to the farm around age 4 and after a bit of desensitization, he was doing therapy visits after 6 months. You need to find a horse that works with your personality. If you can form a trusting relationship with a horse, age doesn’t matter.

Baby Horses

They are so irresistible! Okay, now that we have that established… A benefit of choosing a younger horse is the small number of handlers they have experienced. You will be their primary trainer and you know a lot of what they have been through. When they are young, babies are typically easier to handle and train. Remember, horses go thru a stage of "terrible twos”. Trust your training, don’t let temporary habits become normal behaviors.

Older Horses

A benefit of choosing an older horse is the maturity level. You can see more of their permanent personality. You are not the only person who has trained this horse, simply put - old habits die hard. A mature horse has history, various handlers and maybe even different disciplines. Do you best to find out how that previous training has influenced their handling and disposition now. Again, trust your training and be consistent.

Bottom line, a horse that is well trained with a tender hand will create a lasting bond.



Mares or Geldings? 

We use mares and geldings equally in our program. I don’t prefer one over the other, and some of my best teams are mare/gelding duos. I do take into consideration who I put into the trailer. Some horses will react differently on a visit depending on who is with them. A lot of my time is spent watching the herd dynamic, who allows who to eat by their side. This determines who I can pair together. We always try to partner horses with their friends or other horses from their micro-herd to make the visit as stress-free as we can.



Termination of Therapy Training

During initial evaluation of a horse for therapy work, two characteristics will immediately disqualify:

  • kicking out of aggression

  • biting out of aggression

This is a sign of how the horse will respond under stress and would require a lot of training to change that response. There is no guarantee the horse will ever improve. It is worth mentioning, out of aggression is a very different response than playfulness or mouthiness. Horses play games with each other by nipping at the others’ front legs. There is a noticeable difference between a horse bite and a playful nip.


Do your homework

  • Ask what type of training the horse has received,

  • Ask for proof of training,

  • Ask for videos of visits if the horse is a “trained therapy horse”,

  • Ask someone who knows horses to accompany your visit with a new horse,

  • Make sure there is a contingency plan if the horse doesn’t work out within reasonable time,

  • Use previous experience with horses, and

  • Use your gut instinct.

You could check off all your “boxes” and find a horse that seems fit for therapy but doesn’t enjoy the work he/she does. That’s okay! Therapy work isn’t for every miniature horse. Our goal is to place the horse in a program it thrives in - and sometimes they’re just beautiful lawn ornaments with excellent ground work waiting for their forever home.


 

More Seminar Dates Announced

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 Our seminars are very popular and have been given great reviews by those who have attended. Since so many of you have asked for addition dates we have decided to put together a very special set of classes that will be held only here in Ohio.  

We are offering a specially designed class that will combine Level 1 and Level 2  with hours of hands on training and participating in an actual visit. These seminars will be held  here at our farm in Hamilton, Ohio. The classes will be small so that each student gets plenty of personal attention and the ability to practice what you have learned. The classes are limited to 6 students and you will be able to work with our horses for all the hands on portion, you will also be able to experience our specific training methods for both horses and handlers. While you are here with us we will do an actual visit, you will be able to experience first hand what its like with our trained handlers by your side. You will walk thru all the steps necessary for preparing the horses for a visit, going on a therapy visit and a post visit evaluation. Our desire is for you to get a full experience in animal assisted therapy and gain as much experience as you can. 

Miniature Therapy Horses Level 1

This portion of our seminars is key to understanding our philosophy to our program and how we approach all the training we do for horses and handlers. It is also created as a road map to help you walk thru the maze of question you might have in regards to insurance, setting up a visit, becoming a 501C3, training your horse, choosing a horse, becoming a handler, finding good products and a whole host of other needs. The Level 1 seminar will include a study guide you can take home that will contain pages and pages of all the information discussed in the lectures. The guide will allow you to follow along and take notes as well. we cover Level 1 Friday evening and into Saturday. 

 

Miniature Therapy Horses Level 2 

This course is designed to take all the information you gained in Level 1 and put it into practice. This portion of the seminar is hands on and will walk you thru the steps of choosing a horse, training your horse and preparing for the different levels of registration. It will also give you practical guidance when it comes to handling your horse for various types of visits. Both of these courses are key to our program and build upon each other. Taking these seminars will allow you to register your horse through our program free of charge. Level 2 will be covered Saturday with a visit for you to participate in and ending Sunday with more training and one on one training. 

Version 3

Dates for Seminars Level 1 &2  Hamilton, Ohio 

Aril 27-29, 

June 1-3,

August 27-29

October 5-7

We are excited to share our experience and expertise with those who are desiring to learn more about animal assisted therapy with miniature horses. We would love to have you participate as an individual or as a group. If you think this experience is for you or have interest, please contact us for further details. 

The Results are in!

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We have been asking the schools we visit to let us have feedback on our program, "Just Say Whoa to Bullying" We are fortunate to have received feed back from several schools. We are grateful for their comments because it allows us to make adjustment and present the best program possible. we are thrilled that the comments have been so favorable for the content of the program and the presentation format as well. 

"I greatly appreciate that the "Just Say Whoa to Bullying" program covers material already in the third grade health curriculum. It is great for the kids to hear about bullying from a different source outside of the school. Allowing them to discuss this issue from different perspectives gives them a chance to practice the skills in different manners and understand the importance of the topic. I also loved that Seven Oaks Farms used the ponies to help gain the students attention and connected them to the program. I would love for the Say Whoa to Bullying program to return next school year."

"Linden thought that this program was wonderful. Both teacher and students shared how much they enjoyed this presentation. Thank you for all your efforts in bringing this program to us."

"I think the program is great for our students.  I though what was discussed was beneficial and age appropriate."

All this is made possible because of the donations made by you. Your donations allow us to take care of the horses physical needs as well as keep them in specialized training. We have some of the best, most experienced trainers and handlers here in our program. Your donations keeps our program top notch and allows us to have a program that we are very proud of. We thank you for your donations and hope you can see the benefits to our communities your dollars provide. We have been able to bring our anti-bullying message to hundreds of children in our area. You have made it possible to bring a change to these children and make a real difference.

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Compassion Meets Action

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This fall we will be presenting our anti-bullying program to third grade classes in the Hamilton and Cincinnati school areas. We believe it is a great program that teaches children what bullying is, how to help themselves and that difference are good. The program uses our miniature horses to present concepts and ideas to the children they will remember and understand. We also partner with Officers from the Hamilton, Ross and Cincinnati Police Departments to help present the program. Each classroom receives a teachers guide with activity pages and ideas for classroom use. The children also get to meet our horses at the end of the presentation. As you might guess the program has a cost related to it. We do not charge the schools we visit, we feel the program is important and every child should be a part of it. We are encouraging local businesses to partner with us and help bring this program to every third grade student in our community. Partnering with our local businesses helps us be the place where compassion meets action. Each partner will see directly how their dollars are being used to teach and empower the children we touch. Do you or do you know a business that might be interested in partnering with us to present, "Just Say Whoa to Bullying"? Contact Lisa or anyone on our team and we will show you first hand how you can be a part of this exciting program where compassion meets action. Your dollars allow us to be your hands and feet in the lives of our students in our local schools. 

 

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Serving our Hometown

Seven Oaks Farm Miniature Therapy Horses is pleased announce that we will be presenting our anti-bullying program, “Just Say Whoa to Bullying” to the Hamilton Public Schools this fall.  Officer Kristy Collins from the Hamilton Police Department will be partnering with us to present the program to all 3rd grade classes. The Just Say Whoa® to Bullying program takes a unique approach to teaching bullying prevention by helping children recognize and respect differences in one another. By understanding that everyone has something valuable to offer, children learn acceptance, tolerance, respect, and understanding of others.  By instilling these core values and encouraging good character, Just Say Whoa® to Bullying builds a foundation of understanding and promotes a positive social environment, which - in turn - fosters kindness and good citizenship. In addition, this innovative program is the first of its kind to teach bullying prevention using animal-assisted activities with miniature therapy horses. Animal assisted therapy captures the attention of children of all ages and makes learning fun and memorable.

The program will also sponsor a poster contest for 3rd grade students, one winner will be chosen from each school. These individual school winners will receive 4 game tickets donated by the Cincinnati Reds and be invited to attend Reds Family Opening Day in April where the posters will be on display and they can meet Reds players. At the Family Opening Day event the Grand Prize Winner will be announced. The Grand Prize Winner will receive $300 worth of books for their school library and their poster will be used on our anti-bullying materials. 

We are looking for Hamilton businesses to help sponsor the school visits and help underwrite cost of the program. We’d love to have local support as we present the important program to the children of our community. 

Officer Collins with therapy horse, Toby

Officer Collins with therapy horse, Toby

🦄 #TherapyUnicorn

We spent the most of our mornings and evenings training our horses (in particular, our unicorns) at the farm. Although they are usually a muddy mess, we have such a great time getting them out and working with them. Dallas is a true country boy at heart, and Denver always poses for the camera.

Denver & Dallas are often found at Miami University during midterms or finals, often with colored manes and unicorn horns. Students go nuts. When Denver & Dallas "strut their stuff" students will point, stare and beg their friends to come see us. The best part, many of these students laugh, smile, and relieve some stress while petting our ittybittyhorses. 

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We've talked with many students at Miami who explain their fears of horses, but don't feel the same intimidation with our horses. Others mention our visits are the highlight of their week. The best stories are from those that tell stories of struggles during the semester and feel a renewed energy to finish strong because of the joy they experienced when interacting with our mini horses. 

Our therapy unicorns create magical memories, especially for this sweet young girl. Her grandfather made her a promise years ago, and during this visit we were able to help him keep that promise. She was thrilled to meet a real unicorn and spend time petting, loving and walking with Denver. Her smile was contagious and her love of our unicorn was quite apparent. There is something truly magical when people of all ages meet our unicorns, and we are thrilled to be able to bring so much joy to our visits with these wonderful horses. 

Stay tuned….. one of our newest therapy candidates shows promising signs to be a therapy unicorn. Her sweet personality and enjoyment of human interaction has made her therapy training fly by. Keep an eye out for a new unicorn on the block, Kallie. She has already become a princess here at the farm, and will soon be a favorite for visits as well. 

 

Serving Others. Bringing Joy. Offering Hope.

 

Up Up and Away at CVG

We have been more than honored to have our therapy program at CVG be in the spotlight of such national attention. 

Many of you have been requesting to know when our next visits will take place so that you may plan your travel around seeing the horses. We want to make that available to all of you and we will be creating a calendar of our future CVG visits and public events. As for now our next couple of visits to CVG will take place: 

June 2nd @ 2 p.m.
June 15th @ 2 p.m.
July 5th @ 2 p.m.
July 17th @ 2p.m.

Thank you so much for your interest and for your encouraging words. we also hope that if you feel that what we are doing with our horses is a worthwhile program that you would consider donating to our programs. The money we receive is used to care for the horses and help fund all the visits we make to schools, nursing homes, children's centers and other public events.