SUMMERSIDE – Dorothy Gallant sits in her walker and croons softly to the small equine munching on a carrot at her feet.
She cackles with glee when the animal, a two-month-old miniature horse, lifts his head high enough for her to pat him in his spiky mane.
“That’s his lunch,” she laughs in her Acadian accented English.
The foal’s mother munches heartily on a pail of oats next to her offspring.
“At least that’s not your toes,” remarks a young volunteer to Gallant.
“She won’t go after my toes – they’re not tasty,” she says with a smile, reaching out to the larger of the two and scratching her forehead.
Off in a corner of the small enclosure where this scene is taking place in, Candy Beaton watches with a happy smile.
Beaton is the recreation director at Summerset Manor in Summerside and these two horses, Sugar (mom) and Milo (foal), are part of the home’s therapy animal program.
Summerset has a new paddock and fenced enclosure that was recently opened for use by a couple of four-legged guests.
The structure was built with money fundraised by the local auxiliary and donated by various corporate sponsors.
The old Summerset Manor on Granville Street occasionally hosted horse visitors, said Beaton, so when the new manor on Frank Mellish Drive was being built, keeping them around was one of the requests made by the residents.
The horses are on loan from a local breeder. They will remain in their new home at the Summerset Manor until the fall, then be brought back again in the spring.
Animal therapy has been a resounding success in many retirement homes across the country, said Beaton, and Summerside is no different.
She recently expanded the program at Summerset by adopting a cat for their dementia household and is examining the possibility of bringing in bunnies to join the horses in the enclosure.
Having the animals around really helps the residents feel more at home, said Beaton.
“It brings back lots of memories for a lot of the residents. A lot of them grew up on farms raising horses. And it gives them a sense of purpose too. They come out and help feed them, clean the stalls and brush them,” said Beaton.
Sugar and Milo are also a comfort for the manor staff as well.
Carlee Lynch recently started volunteering her time at the home and she comes to see the animals whenever she can.
“It’s great. (The residents) all love it, as well as us staff. It’s nice to get out and just come and relax, rather than being inside all day,” she said.
But while Milo didn’t show much interest in Gallant’s toes he did seem to take a liking to Lynch’s.
The foal tried to nibble a bit on her pant-leg before deciding it wasn’t something he was interested in.
He soon trotted back over to Gallant, who welcomed him with a leftover bit of carrot and some murmured words of encouragement.