Youville Home residents gather in the courtyard, eagerly awaiting a visit from some unusual four-legged guests. Their eyes light up as two horses, Pongo and Echo, amble up to the gate to greet them.
Pongo and Echo are led by Tammy Schepens, a teacher from Leo Nickerson Elementary School, and Abi Henneberry and Cathy Jones, teachers at Lois E. Hole Elementary School. This is the first time they have brought their horses to Youville Home, an idea borne during a conversation about how they could safely continue community outreach. Staff and students have a strong relationship with the community, but they haven’t been able to do many of their regular activities since COVID-19 began.
“We are so fortunate to have these animals in our lives, and we know there is a connection between horses and the elderly — it can take them back to their youth,” Tammy says. “Especially during a time when they can’t easily see people they love, it’s a chance for us to make them smile.”
Bringing horses to Youville Home is a creative way to keep residents engaged and uplifted when many of their regular recreational activities have had to be adjusted due to COVID-19. An opportunity to see animals, particularly horses, sparks fond memories for many who grew up around horses or spent a lot of time near them.
“I grew up on a farm in the 1950s where there were a lot of horses,” says Roy Schmaus, Youville Home resident. “I really enjoyed seeing them again.”
As Pongo and Echo stand calmly in the courtyard, occasionally munching grass, the powerful effect they have on residents is palpable. There are many smiles, and even some tears of nostalgia, as the residents see horses up close for the first time in years.
Carol Ewanchuk, a recreation therapist at Youville Home, says animals have the unique ability to boost residents’ spirits just by being present.
“The horse visit was powerful and so beneficial because it helped people’s mental health,” Carol says. “Horses are very therapeutic and bring back good memories.”
Cecilia Marion, senior director of operations at Youville Home, says that despite COVID-19 restrictions, the recreation team is finding creative ways to keep residents entertained and connected. While larger resident gatherings have been postponed, smaller group activities still take place.
“Our staff have always been great at creating summer fairs, barbecues, etc., for our residents, so they’re used to having lots of activities to partake in,” says Cecilia.