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Therapy horses visit senior living centers around Salt Lake Valley, bring joy during COVID-19

Posted at 12:14 AM, Jul 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-16 08:05:30-04

SANDY, Utah — In a time when the world is different and visitors are few, a pair of equine guests are bringing cheer to senior living centers around the Salt Lake Valley.

On the patio of the memory care wing outside Cedarwood at Sandy, a group of residents sat outside-- socially distancing of course-- eating ice cream bars.

The little time outdoors brought welcome relief for a group that hasn't been able to have to many guests during COVID-19.

"We're all going nuts," said Bev Basinger, who lives outside the memory care wing but knows many of the residents as her friends and acquaintances.

"If you get around people that can't hug each other, and go to the dining room, and have a cup of coffee with a friend-- that isn't good," she said.

No. Not good at all.

But on this day, some new visitors trotted by.

"Everybody got your cowboy boots on?" An employee asked, as two horses strutted into the courtyard.

The group began to murmur about the guests, their eyes lighting up.

Each person was handed a treat as they were introduced to six-year old Tennessee Walking Horse Sugar, and her two-month old filly Ember.

"She'll eat all the goodies she can get," one woman said, chuckling as Sugar went from one giving hand, to another.

"Oh wow!" squealed another resident, watching Sugar gobble up a tasty biscuit.

A third woman smiled and laughed, as Sugar's treat-taking tactics tickled the woman's hand.

Ryan Price, marketer and community liaison for Envision Home, Health and Hospice, brought Sugar to the facility after seeing how the therapy horse worked with his own special needs son.

Sugar and Ember belong to his father-in-law, and he said Sugar has been doing therapy with his son-- who is autistic and has cerebral palsy-- for about four years.

"They'll show you love," he said. "It kind of creates a confidence and it's super empowering."

Ryan aims to bring Sugar, and more recently Ember, to facilities about once a month to create that confidence in residents.

On the same day the horse duo visited Cedarwood, they also stopped by Pacifica Senior Living Millcreek.

Petting the horses sparked old memories for the residents.

"I used to own horses," one elderly woman said, stroking Sugar's nose. "Did you really?" Ryan responded.

"It's rewarding," Ryan said. "You get to hear their stories, and you get to hear their memories. Sometimes you hear them a few times, and you know that that struck a cord with them."

Bev talked about how she's from a farm in Iowa, and she used to ride the horses her uncle owned.

"I'd like to jump on her and ride," Bev said, after feeding Sugar a biscuit. "That's a nice riding horse right there."

For these seniors, connecting with the majestic beings is a real treat.

"Animals are really good for people" Bev said. "They have an understanding that other people don't get."