Healing is a holistic thing, and when it comes to children who are in the hospital, every parent knows that there are a ton of different strategies that you can employ to aide in your child's recovery. Whether it's volunteers who hand out treats, relatives to pay visits, or even animals who are brought in to see the kids, there are many different types of treatments that can be used in tandem. That's why it's so sweet that this mini horse named "Hope" is visiting kids in the hospital.
Local NBC News affiliate KCRA-3 reported on Tuesday that Hope, an emotional therapy horse, was brought in to visit children at the Kaiser Permanente Roseville Medical Center in order to help kids with cancer and other diseases in their recovery process. "He loves animals," Katrina Martinez, one mother whose son is being treated for a blood cell disease, told KCRA-3. "He was having a hard time before the horse came here. He hasn't looked at his IV infusion... not once. But before the horse came, he was pulling on it and trying to grab at it."
For another 4-year-old patient named Landon, Hope aided him during a Leukemia treatment. "He's laying here, and that was the first time he smiled all day," Landon's mother told the news outlet.
This is not the first time in recent history that emotional therapy horses have made national news. In June, VICE reported that JetBlue has officially declared mini horses OK to travel on flights, though they've previously turned down peacocks, and hamsters. The airline will allow cats, dogs and small horses on board, with a note from a psychiatric professional, veterinary health form, and confirmation of animal behavior.
The decision caused somewhat of a controversy considering that most people don't deem mini horses to be quite in the same standard as cats and dogs, but it does make sense. Minihorse.org explained that research shows "tiny equines" to be "extremely effective" in helping hospital patients, the elderly, people with disabilities, and anyone recovering from an illness or injury.
The Cancer Treatment Center of America explained that certified therapy pets can provide patients and families with "comfort, relief and a distraction from pain, discomfort and stress," and that it can also "reduce stress, improve mood and energy levels, and decrease perceived pain and anxiety. It may also provide a sense of companionship that combats feelings of isolation."
UCLA also reported that research shows that the "simple act of petting animals releases an automatic relaxation response," and that humans who interact with animals release serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin. It's also been shown, according to UCLA, to improve blood pressure, cardiovascular health, and reduce the number of medications a patient needs.
"Doctors and nurses have traditionally been of the mindset that if we just give patients the 'right' medication, their psychological status will improve," Dale Needham, a professor of medicine and of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the School of Medicine, said in a John Hopkins study on the topic. "In fact, we probably need to give less medicine and rely more on nonpharmaceutical interventions, such as music therapy, relaxation training, and animal-assisted therapy to help improve patients' psychological status."
It's clear that the utilization of therapy animals, including miniature horses, benefit patients in a multitude of ways. It's encouraging to see medical institutions leaning into holistic treatment options. The future only looks hopeful from here.