It’s a stifling hot day as Jennifer Semach and volunteer Aimee Bain of Walkabout Farm Therapeutic Riding Association Inc. – and their therapy miniature horses, Sweet Pea and Sassy – travel to Hyland Crest Long-Term Care home in Minden.

The main doors open and the two handlers and their horses make their way to the lounge room where about a dozen residents, accompanied by staff, and some caregivers, are gathered. Semach carries a bucket and some cleaning equipment in the event of any horse messes.

One of the horses makes a beeline for Lorraine Patterson. It sticks to her like glue as she tells Bain how her daughter has ridden at the stables just outside of Minden. Bain says it’s unusual behaviour as the horse “likes to say hello and move on.”

Across the room, Semach tells the story of meeting a resident who told her he used to ride a horse to school, then simply let go of the bridle, and the horse would make its way home.

Resident Linda Kellett wants to know the horse’s ages and is told Sweet Pea is 12 and Sassy 17.

As a horse makes its way to Donna Brown, it appears to be almost sleeping on its feet. It’s been a hot day and the pair had not been in the paddock, perhaps causing the drowsiness. Semach gives the horse a mint, “a nice sugary snack” and it perks up. So much so that it nuzzles Semach’s pocket for more, and at one-point leaves what she jokingly calls “a wet fart” on the floor. She bends to clean it up.

Semach then explains to Joan Chambers that the horses have had a bath for their visit. “We use Dawn dish soap. It’s cheaper than horse shampoo.” Chambers leans down and gives the horse a hug.

At one point, Bain takes one of the horses down the hallway to visit Regis Doige in her room. She and Semach and their equine friends then jump in the elevator to head to another floor. The two say the horses are fine with elevators.

The visit is all part of the new Recreational Equine Assisted Participation or REAP program, Semach explained.

“In part, because there are higher barriers to participation in long-term care facilities, we are pleased to offer our mobile miniature horses,” Semach said. They also visit Highland Wood and Extendicare, and accept visitors to their farm.

Semach said, “horses provide full sensory engagement and spark renewed interest in movement for even the most participant-reluctant residents.”

Walkabout encourages the caregiver and staff to be on hand as “connecting with horses erases the hierarchy and puts both the caregiver and the non-ambulatory or cognitivelydisabled person on the same playing field through an activity that can be shared together.

“These sessions also remind the caregiver that it’s ok to find time for themselves, even while providing care for a loved one,” Semach said.

She added that movement through grooming, leading, holding, hugging or petting activates the autonomic nervous system and releases endorphins brought about by the physical activity “thereby lifting the mood and contributing to a sense of well-being.”

Haliburton Highlands Health Services life enrichment manager, Brittany Burton said Hyland Crest and Highland Wood “are so thankful to Jennifer for our regular visits from Walkabout horse farm.

“Sweet Pea and Sassy have been the highlight to our summer.”

Burton said interest in the program far exceeds regular programming, “which attests to how valuable it is for our residents. We cannot thank them enough and we hope we are able to continue this program through good weather months for years to come.” She added the residents can’t wait to visit Sweet Pea and Sassy at their home this summer.

Walkabout is a registered charitable organization that facilitates fully inclusive therapeutic/adaptive horseback riding, equine experiential learning, equine assisted psychotherapy, and youth outreach initiatives. For more go to