When Daisy Mae first pulled up to her new home at People & Animal Learning Services (PALS), staff members at the therapy facility had their noses pressed to the windows, waiting for her to come inside.
“I remember that first day she came,” says Associate Director Lindsay Nash. “It was seriously like Christmas.” [Editor’s note: Since this interview was conducted, Nash has left PALS.]
“I’m not joking when I say I don’t think any office staff got anything done that day,” agrees Programs Director Lizzie Cochrane.
A miniature pony from Spencer, Indiana, Daisy Mae was donated to PALS last fall. Not only is the nine-year-old pony miniature sized, she is also affected by equine dwarfism, a genetic mutation that leads to an even shorter stature and shorter limbs — much like Lil Bub!
From head to hoof, Daisy Mae stands a full 2 feet 4 inches tall. Throw in her slightly bowed back legs, multicolored eyes, and daisy-decorated booties from Build-a-Bear, and Daisy Mae isn’t your average-looking therapy animal.
As a recently certified therapy horse, Daisy Mae is now accredited through the National Service Animal Registry to serve in the Bloomington community, including in nursing homes, recreation centers, schools, therapy centers, and “basically anywhere she fits,” says Nash.
For traveling expeditions, Cochrane usually loads Daisy Mae into the back of her car, and the two visit educational events around the city. (Nash says they hope to acquire a personal minitrailer for Daisy, so she can travel more easily to and from their facility.)
“She gets to go on a lot of adventures,” Cochrane says.
With her new certification, she can attend different events around the city and help PALS clients meet their therapeutic goals. Like all of PALS’s therapy horses, Daisy Mae’s primary purpose is to provide affection and comfort to people with disabilities.
“We have lots of plans for little Miss Daisy,” Nash says. “Our goal is to sort of use her as a PALS ambassador.”
She mainly works with the clients in the PALS Horsemanship Program, the unmounted side of equestrian therapy. Unmounted therapy is an opportunity for PALS to work with clients who might still have a fear of riding or for clients with limited mobility.
“Instead of doing riding lessons, they’ll take care of Daisy, groom her and learn the basics of horse care in general,” Nash says. “She provides a lot of social and emotional support, especially for children and adults on the autism spectrum.”
Daisy Mae also provides a more manageable equine experience for PALS clients who may have more limited mobility.
“She’s a good motivator, especially for clients who are wanting to get out of their wheelchair or walk better,” Cochrane says. “They can pull her along, or she’ll put her head right in the lap of a client in a wheelchair.”
PALS serves upward of 200 clients through its therapy facilities, both adults and children. By working with the horses, these clients can learn how to build confidence and other social and motor skills. This past year, PALS offered an all-inclusive summer camp for kids, where the kids learned about horse care through riding, crafts, and educational programming. Daisy Mae often plays an integral role in these educational scenarios.
“She’s totally docile around the kids,” says Cochrane. “The children at the camp were just dressing her up like a cowgirl.”
The PALS team is mindful of how many people they’re surrounding Daisy with daily, and thanks to the “horse school” training PALS provides for their horses, Daisy is able to handle more stimuli and become more familiar with the affection of small children.
“She can really incorporate our goals in a way that’s not as intimidating,” Cochrane says. “She can be that stepping stone to being with a full-sized horse for a client that may be afraid of a larger animal.”
The PALS crew doesn’t expect Daisy’s medical condition to affect her life span. In fact, miniature ponies commonly live to 40 years old. “Ponies like to live until they’re ancient,” Cochrane says.
As her one-year anniversary with PALS approaches, the new ambassador of PALS can look forward to more adventures and friends, all while sending a little bit of care to the Bloomington community.
“I love Daisy,” Cochrane says. “She’s become somewhat of a mascot for us. She brings a sense of community. … She offers a fun environment, plus she’s adorable.”
[Editor’s Note: Meet Daisy Mae and the rest of the therapeutic equine team at PALS 17th Annual Fun Show on Saturday, October 28, from 10 a.m. — 3:30 p.m. at the PALS facility, 7644 W. Elren Road. Limestone Post is a sponsor of the event.]