Some were lined up in the front room excited for the mane event.
Others remained in their room or sat in the courtyard anxiously awaiting a visit by the special guests.
Either way, Hero, Goldie and Harley were the stars of the show Tuesday afternoon at Seymour Crossing.
The three horses are part of the ASC Cavalry Horses of Hope that have spent the past month visiting American Senior Communities facilities around Indiana to provide comfort, hope and entertainment to residents and staff members during visitation restrictions due to COVID-19.
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Since visitors aren’t allowed inside the senior health care facilities, residents can remain inside and see the horses through a window. If the residents are outside, they practice social distancing by staying 6 feet apart and are able to pet the horses and talk to the owners, Wess and Marci Jackson, and a handler, John Conner.
The Jacksons are partners with other family members in owning ASC.
“Our residents aren’t able to get visitation. … Only essential workers are supposed to be out and about, and these guys are essential for the well-being of our residents,” Wess said of the horses. “I also love seeing my employees who are gutting it out daily taking care of the most fragile of who we have in our society of Hoosiers. We’re here for our employees. I love seeing them smile. I love seeing all of the smiles.”
As the horses were led up to each window, residents smiled, and some took pictures to remember the moment.
Marci said she would rather hug the residents and sit and talk to them, but since she can’t, talking to them through the windows will do for now.
“You can just tell, even if they are nonverbal or they don’t usually communicate, their eyes will just lock, and when the horse locks with them, it’s even better,” she said.
On Tuesday, she was glad to allow the residents in the courtyard to touch and feed the horses.
“No matter how lucid they are, something triggers and then they start telling stories,” she said. “Whether you can understand them or not, you just smile and nod, and they feel like they are seen and heard.”
Whether in-person or through a window, it was a positive experience for all involved.
“We all need somebody to come alongside and give us a nudge and a ‘Hey, I’m thinking of you,'” Marci said. “What better way to do with horses? Animals can reach a part of somebody deeper than a human can.”
Jennifer Rogers, director of nursing for Seymour Crossing, touched on that point, too.
“Sometimes, people connect with an animal the way they can’t with a human. That has been since the beginning of time,” she said. “You may find a connection with a horse or a dog or a cat or a bird that you don’t have with another human. You could tell an animal your deepest, darkest secrets you wouldn’t want to tell anybody else, and you just develop a kinship with that animal.”
She said that’s why Tuesday’s visit was exciting for the residents.
“They miss their families. They miss being outside. They miss that general human contact,” Rogers said. “Something like this, it can do worlds of wonder for them. We’re trying to do everything we can on the inside, but this right here, this is just such a kindhearted act. They are just so excited. It’s wonderful.”
Wess said the horses benefit from the experience, too.
“God made them to work, and even though our horses are designed to push cattle around and give a lot of pony rides, they do recognize this is part of their job,” he said. “They have to be patient, they have to settle down, so it is a job for them. It’s just not as physically taxing. It’s emotionally taxing on them really.”
Wess said he and his wife got the horses for their kids 25 years ago, but now that the kids are out of the house, the horses serve a different role.
“I’ve got a geriatric herd,” he said. “I’m not going to get rid of them because they are the kids’, so for them to still have a job is great. In the summer, these guys work with inner-city kids. We’ll start that here in a few months, but in the winter, they don’t have anything to do as much.”
Over the years, the horses have visited the ASC facilities for employees’ children and grandchildren to enjoy.
Under these circumstances with the virus pandemic, Wess said he talked to his executive team about taking the horses to all of the facilities for window visits.
Once they were on board, he worked with his marketing team to put a schedule together, and they branded it ASC Cavalry Horses of Hope.
When the tour is complete, they will have visited 87 ASC facilities.