Honey the Service Horse
A few weeks ago, I asked for pictures of horses hanging out with their non-horsey animal friends on my Facebook page. Several of you posted cute ones, but when Jessica Wellman posted this picture, it definitely piqued my curiosity.
I wondered, why is this miniature horse inside? Is she a pet? So I asked Jessica about the picture and found out this mini named Honey isn’t just a pet, but a service animal. It was then that I knew I wanted to feature her as one of my Highlighted Horses. But I honestly had no idea that Honey has quite a story!
You see, the six-year-old American Miniature Horse found her way to Jessica’s place after Jessica entered a raffle held by a local horse rescue charity at The Horse World Expo in Timonium, Maryland several years ago. Jessica said she didn’t even look at the prizes, just filled out the card and slipped her $5 into the jar.
But about a week later, she got a surprising phone call. Apparently, she’d won the “grand prize” from the raffle, and the person calling wanted to know where to come drop the prize off.
“I gave them the address of the boarding stable I was managing at the time, figuring I would soon be getting a nice basket of shampoos, brushes, fly spray, treats… or whatever. I never imagined that the next day some one would pull up and hand me a lead rope attached to a super fuzzy, dirty, skinny, scared mini horse who was nearly feral.”
Jessica wasn’t quite sure what she’d do with the mini, but she soon began the task of starting her, beginning with halter breaking, ground work, and desensitization. Using techniques taught by Buck Brannaman, Tom Torrance, and Ray Hunt, she began to build a relationship with Honey in no time at all.
At the time, Jessica was living at her parents house to help care for her mom who has cerebral palsy and her dad, who had been more recently been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. After her dad was moved to the VA hospital Ventilator Unit, Jessica and her mom began spending their evenings there.
“Going to the VA hospital opened my eyes to how our veterans who gave their lives to serve our country were seemingly forgotten. Most of them were alone. And most of the time my mom and I were the only ones who visited,” said Jessica.
In an effort to make her dad more comfortable, they hung pictures and paintings on the walls and also brought their dogs up to visit. This gave Jessica an idea–what if Honey could come visit as well? So she increased Honey’s training and began to take her into pet friendly stores like Tractor Supply, Southern States, Petco, and Petsmart.
“She took to the training like a duck to water,” said Jessica. “No matter what situation I presented to her, she was able to overcome it, no matter how scary.”
Soon, Jessica felt confident that Honey was ready to go visit her dad.
“The day that Honey walked into the room to meet my dad was so great,” said Jessica. “The look in his eyes and the smile on his face was something I hadn’t seen in a long time. After a about a week the nurses and staff begin asking if I would go around and visit other patients not just in his unit, but over the entire compound.”
Sadly, Jessica’s dad passed away only a few months after meeting Honey, but Jessica and her mom had found joy in visiting other lonely patients so they continued taking Honey to the VA and surrounding hospitals, retirement homes, and hospice centers for the next couple of years.
Jessica had no plans of stopping her therapy work with Honey, but in 2012, she became ill and was admitted into he hospital, herself. It was determined that she had Crhon’s Disease and the doctors also realized her body had been leaching calcium from her digestive tract and depositing in into her hips and lower back. The result became limited movement and pain similar to early onset arthritis.
Jessica knew she could benefit from a service animal and she realized who better to help her than Honey? So Honey began the next phase of her training–as a service horse, and it wasn’t long before she was helping Jessica do all sorts of things.
“Honey will retrieve objects, open doors, brace me while I sit/stand, support me as I stand/walk, pull a wheelchair, and apply deep pressure therapy,” said Jessica.
Because of Honey’s size and her unique job, her ‘living arrangements’ are a bit different from other horses. Jessica has long been interested in the paddock paradise concept and wanted to give it a try even though she lives on 1/3 of an acre in a neighborhood. So she put up a second fence inside of her privacy fence and created a mini track! This promotes movement as Honey has slow feeder hay nets in multiple stations along the track. Jessica also allows her very limited grazing in the center of the yard.
“I have lined the track with stone of different sizes and texture which helps strengthen her feet an d also encourages natural wear/trimming,” said Jessica.
Honey has a natural diet consisting of several varieties of hay, Redmond loose mineral salt, a Himalayan salt lick, a small amount of Crypto Aero Wholefood Horse feed, 1/8 cup food grade Diatomaceous Earth, and for one week every few months, 1/2 cup raw shelled pumpkin seeds to help reduce parasites. She also gets raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar in her water.
“Finally for fun/treats I load her Shires equestrian ball feeder with some hay pellets (Timothy/alfalfa), striped sunflower seeds, chunks of carrots, and banana chips,” said Jessica.
Jessica has also converted her two car garage into a climate controlled horse and dog room. This is where Honey’s stall is. Honey even has a litter tray in the garage which she’s been trained to use when she’s in the house. When Jessica’s home, she leaves the door open so Honey can come and go between the garage and house as needed.
“Typically she hangs out with me laying lown on the rug and watching tv, comes over and engages in mutual grooming, or pushes her ball feeder around,” said Jessica.
Jessica said Honey loves to watch tv and she’s even been known to run out and grab a bite of hay really quick and come back and munch on it in front of the tv!
Honey currently has four doggy companions, but Jessica plans to get a six month old mini colt soon to train as a service horse as well.
“Honey is going to play a big part by showing the colt the ropes in everything from potty training to bracing and detecting muscle spasms,” said Jessica.
Jessica relayed that even though her disability has prevented her from doing some of the horse-related activities she once did, she is able to continue living and doing other things she loves because of Honey. Her goal is to continue educating people on what miniature horses have to offer people with disabilities, and she has recently helped to start a non-profit organization called Reaching for the Stars Service Animals. In the past two years, her organization has helped to bring 15 service dogs to people in need. Jessica hopes to continue this work and be able to provide more dogs and also miniature horses for disabled kids, adults, and especially veterans.
If you’d like to learn more about Jessica’s organization and see how you or your company can help, please visit her Facebook page.