Therapy takes on a different look at SeniorCare PACE

Modern medicine continues to advance at a rapid pace in an effort to help people enjoy longer, healthier lives. But sometimes, health benefits can be gained in unexpected ways – like stroking the soft coat of a miniature pony.

Last week, senior citizens sat in a semi-circle outside Prisma Health SeniorCare Pace (Program of all Inclusive Care for the Elderly) to meet a nine-year-old miniature horse named Cinnamon, who was there to spend part of the morning with them via the Seneca-based Wild Hearts Equine Therapy.

For Cinnamon, it was a treat to munch on grass (she doesn’t normally get to eat grass as part of her diet) as well as get her hair braided and her coat brushed. For the seniors, it represents a new way to help them stay active and engaged with the world around them.

From a health standpoint, horse therapy is often used to help individuals maintain a sense of calm and well-being. The equine protection organization Habitat for Horses states that “benefits include lowered blood pressure and heart rate, increased levels of beta-endorphins (neurotransmitters that serve as pain suppressors), decreased stress levels, reduced feelings of anger, hostility, tension and anxiety, improved social functioning; and increased feelings of empowerment, trust, patience and self-efficacy.”

A SeniorCare participant brushes Cinnamon’s coat.

Mollie Benjamin, a SeniorCare participant, said she enjoyed getting to meet Cinnamon and looks forward to the opportunity for more visits.

“Any time they come with a horse, I will be there,” she said.

SeniorCare PACE is one of a handful of centers in South Carolina and the only center located in the Upstate. It provides community-based care and services to people who would otherwise need a nursing-home level of care. Our center in Greenville has a more than 96 percent success rate in helping nursing-home-eligible seniors remain in their own homes and communities.

While Prisma Health has been using dogs for some time to help with therapy and healing for everyone from children to seniors, I wanted to see what else was out there when it came to strengthening our work with seniors. I began reading about equine-assisted therapy and realized this could be a good fit. I reached out to Wild Hearts Equine Therapy and it turned out that they had been looking for ways to get involved with seniors. It became a perfect fit.

Wild Hearts Equine Therapeutic Center is a local nonprofit based out of Seneca. Founded in 2015, Wild Hearts serves the local Upstate population, including veterans from around the country who participate in the Wounded Warrior Project.

We are excited about the future of what this program can bring. And I think our SeniorCare PACE members are excited as well! There was a lot of laughing and joking when our clients met Cinnamon and his “best friend,” a donkey named Clifford. They cooed when Cinnamon nuzzled up to them and chuckled when she shifted her head in effort to get an admirer with a tack brush to stroke a different spot.

Lizzie Hunt was the first person to braid Cinnamon’s blonde mane and I think she summed up the opportunity the best. She remarked how patient Cinnamon was and how she couldn’t wait to tell her grandson about the experience.

“I say bring Cinnamon back again.”

Blog post author Merritt King is a recreational therapist with SeniorCare PACE.

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