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She Trains Miniature Horses For Therapy
When it comes to horses, Pine Island, Minn. trainer Bonnie Prestegard thinks small. Her under 34-in. tall horses are cute, cuddly and trained as therapy animals for vulnerable people of all ages.
  “I started working with miniature horses because I saw the amazing bonds they form with elderly people,” Prestegard says. “As a very caring person myself, I saw training as a way to bring comfort and care to many others.”
  Prestegard offers a 12-week program where she trains a horse and handler together. Upon completion, the handler receives a certificate of achievement listing the tasks the horse and handler have learned. She also offers individual lessons and 2-day workshops if people can’t commit to a 12-week course.
  “I teach the animals to be comfortable around people and different noises, how to cross over gutters, holes and different levels of ground. Horses will go inside, so we train them to walk hallways and be in small rooms around people,” Prestegard says.
  One of her training methods involves dressing the animals and handlers in costumes and attending show competitions. It teaches both the handlers and the horse how to act around others, how to walk in a straight line, stand at attention and enjoy being obedient.
  Her own horses are her stud, Billy the Kid, who she bought in 2011, along with Gracie, Lilly and Pearl. She says all of them love people, love attending events, and bring smiles to faces young and old.
   “When we’re around small children we let them pet the horses, groom them and braid their hair into pony tails. Our horses love this attention and will stand for long periods of time as kids are near them,” Prestegard says.
  “Visiting the elderly is a very unique experience for me, the horses and the residents. Seeing a small horse almost immediately brings smiles to people’s faces,” Prestegard says. “As the horse goes closer to an individual, the person reaches out to touch it, not thinking about the stiffness in their arm. This is real comforting therapy because it isn’t painful. Gracie is very sensitive to people’s reactions and doesn’t force herself on them. She’ll lean into a person’s lap, nuzzle them and take away any apprehension they have. It’s a breath of God’s goodness in these little animals and I’m so thankful to bring this type of care forward.”
  Visitors are welcome at A & B Ranch, where Prestegard allows them to groom and walk the horses, enjoy a horse fashion show, dress and dance with a horse, and see how they’re cared for. Reservations are required. Volunteers can also work at her ranch from May through October to learn her therapy concepts and work with the horses.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Bonnie Prestegard, A & B Ranch, 10061 County Road 113 NW, Pine Island, Minn. 55963 (www.abranch.net).

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2019 - Volume #43, Issue #1