Miniature horses provide online therapy amid pandemic

You can now FaceTime or Zoom with therapy animals — miniature horses to be exact.

Jodie Diegel is the founder of SOUL Harbour Ranch in Barrington, Ill. SOUL is home to 10 miniature horses, four miniature donkeys, two dogs and two standard horses. The animals are trained to provide therapy and inspire people at hospitals, hospices and nursing homes. 

“When we walk into that hospital, when people see our little sneaker-wearing miniature horses or our beautiful therapy dogs, again, there’s just this incredible connection,” Diegel told the Associated Press. 

When the pandemic started, the animal therapy center had to temporarily close. SOUL still needed to bring in enough money to feed and care for its animals while under lockdown, so Diegel came up with the idea of providing the same animal therapy service over Zoom. 

“Now we didn’t have fundraisers, so we did everything virtually as most nonprofits and businesses have had to pivot, we pivoted and wow, we reached an audience that we had no idea we would be able to reach,” Diegal told the Associated Press. 

Schools, libraries and organizations have all used SOUL’s digital animal therapy. Before the service was limited to where the animals could go, thanks to the internet people all over the world can use SOUL.

“We had people writing in saying, ‘Hi from Brazil,’ or ‘Hi, I’m sending love from Europe’ and the fact that we can meet this audience, international audience, is really incredible,” Diegel told the Associated Press.

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