January 23, 2018

Posted by on Oct 13, 2023

Outreach Visit to UMD Kirby Student Center 11:00AM-1:00PM This was a PAWS Event. PAWS stands for PET AWAY STRESS. Pat Castellano, the Pet Partners test evaluator sent Beth and me an email asking us to come to this event. We were thrilled to accept the invitation. We took Gracie and Maggie on their first outing as registered therapy minis. Beth was the handler for Gracie. I was the handler for Maggie. Our job was to relieve the stress of students studying for their finals.

Our day started at 7am to get the mini stalls cleaned. Then it was time to run the minis so they would release some energy. We gave both minis a waterless bath Monday and again this morning because Monday night Maggie had lain down in some manure so her belly was crusty plus there was also a big manure stain on her face. It all came out with Beth’s 30 minutes of hard scrubbing. Also not to be out done, Gracie rolled in her stall this morning, getting her coat full of barn dust and shavings. So I worked on the bodies of both minis and Beth did the mane, tail, forelock, and bellies. Then it was on to the feet. Beth picked them, scrubbed them with a brush, and took a towel to their hooves.

We warmed up the van, got dressed in non-smelly clothes and loaded the minis into the van. Monday we got the van ready with sawdust and hay. I also had previously driven to UMD to scope out the parking and find the Kirby Student Center. I timed the trip from the barn to the Center. It was a 22 minute drive.

Beth drives a bit slower than I, but today she put the pedal to the metal. Really she drove the speed limit and we got there in 22 minutes. We were both shocked. We had 25 minutes on our hands. We took several driving tours around the university. Beth had been an instructor there.

As we drove around I just happened to see our white van in the windows of a building. I said to Beth, “I hope the police do not think we are terrorists because we are now on our 3rd lap around the university.”

Our 25 minutes of touring ended at 10:30 when we spotted the PAWS coordinator who told us where to park. The good thing about our parking space was that it was a few feet from the door we needed to enter. The bad thing was that we were right on the very busy Kirby Drive, which is the main thoroughfare for the busses and cars. Our ramp stuck out a little bit in the road and our minis were coming down the ramp into the road.

We handled it well by waiting for an opening in traffic. Maggie came out but then a car appeared but she stopped and waited for us to get Gracie out successfully. As the busses drove by they were loud and noisy. Gracie was a bit unnerved but handled it. I took both Gracie and Maggie for a walk to get them calmed down and get used to all the noises. Beth cleaned the van a bit.

Then it was time to go in. We had directions to go in, take the elevator down to the first floor and take a right. Our minis had never been in elevators before but Beth and I had built such trust with these minis that we knew they could do it. I had suggested that we take 1 mini at a time in the elevator. I did not want one mini freaking out the other one.

I pressed the elevator button but it was taking a long time so I started walking Maggie around the lobby. Students came up from downstairs, saw our minis and a crowd gathered. Pictures were being taken. We stood there for 20-25 minutes. Beth and I could not believe the crowd. Both horses handled it well. Finally we just had to get downstairs so I explained that to the crowd. I pressed the elevator button. Maggie and I got in. I turned her so she faced the door. When the door shut completely, Maggie realized she was in a box all closed in. I clicked and gave her a treat for reassurance. I pressed the down button. She stuttered once to get her balance but remained calm. The door opened and we walked out. We only got a few feet from the elevator and Maggie was surrounded by students.

Maggie handled it all so well. Once in a while I gave her a click and a treat. This was to let her know that she was doing what she was trained for and doing it well. Then Gracie came down the elevator without any problems. She also was surrounded by students. Beth said Gracie was wonderful. She stood patiently and allowed everyone to pet her, rub her forehead and braid her mane. She stood still and was more patient than she ever though she could be.

Maggie did the same. People were so amazed that a year ago Maggie would not tolerate anyone touching her. When a student accidentally dropped a water bottle hard on the floor, Maggie did not flinch. She did flinch about 7 times when the people petting her shocked her. The air was very dry there. Each time Maggie got shocked she would raise her head to look at me for reassurance. Then I would give her a kiss on the forehead. Some dog lovers in the group commented that they kiss their dogs in the same spot.

When I felt Maggie needed to move a bit to get some release from the crowd, I would tell the students that Maggie needed a walking break. It was so nice to hear the sharp staccato of her hooves. I took her up a ramp where people were studying quietly. They did not pet her but only smiled.

One time Maggie stood at a window looking in where a meeting was going on. One guy saw her. His facial expression was hilarious. He must have told everyone and the whole room turned towards the window with more hilarious facial expressions. HEE HEE!

After 45 minutes, I told Beth that Maggie needed a break, both for peace and quiet and to pee. Again we rode up the elevator, one at a time. The minis got in the van for a 15 minute rest. We heard the minis pee and one pooped. Beth and I also sat in the van, going over how unbelievably well the minis were doing.

Then it was back to traffic control as again the minis came out of the van. While Beth cleaned the van a bit, I took both minis for a run to expel energy.

Maggie and I once more rode the elevator down with a young gentleman. I had asked him if that was ok if Maggie and I joined him. He said yes. While Maggie and I were in the elevator with him, he kept saying, “This is so cool. I never expected I would be doing this.” In fact he stayed with Maggie and me for about 30 minutes asking great questions about horses and donkeys. He just fell in love with Maggie.

Students were thrilled. Most had never petted a horse before. There were lots of selfies taken. I explained to the students why I was glad the new phones did not have to flash. Many said I have to text so and so to get the down here to see the minis. The students were very complimentary. They loved Maggie. When a compliment was given I would tell Maggie, “Did you hear that? Then I would repeat the compliment. Students would smile.

Many students stated what a stress reliever this was. The UMD organizer came over to tell us how well she thought this was going. They had never had such big animals do this. The students had also told me that they were really surprised to see us there.

Gracie was also such a big hit. She and Beth were an incredible team. Gracie has a bit more energy but Beth gets the best out of her.

After a while I thought it was time for another break. I looked at my cell phone. It was 12:52 and it ended at 1:00. Beth and I could not believe how time flew. So it was time for another elevator ride with Maggie, our 4th and final one. The elevator Maggie and I were waiting for stopped. A student was in there. I asked if Maggie and I could ride up with him. “NO way.” was his reply. Then he thought a bit and said, “You can have the elevator and I will take the stairs.”

When we got outside I decided to walk Maggie and Gracie before putting them in the van for the ride home. They had stood for so long. Beth and I were so proud of our horses. We were in awe to see how well a year’s worth of training worked. It was incredible.

We get a nice note from Pat Castellano: “You were a big hit and thanks for coming. Will send out a note on other dates and a summer program at a camp for kids with AIDS, cancer, chronic diseases etc. Glad the girls had fun. We heard all about it from students!”

So everything went perfect, NOT. Here were some glitches:

Glitch 1: I had not used the van for a while and forgot to duck when I brought Maggie into the van. This is not the first time I have gotten a knob on the top of my head. I just do not think.

Glitch 2: Beth had changed her boots to a pair with more attractive style. I had led Maggie into the van and then waited for Beth to lead Gracie half way in where I could grab her lead rope to bring her all the way in the van. Beth would then shut the back doors. I watch as Beth walks up the ramp with Gracie. She yells, “I’m sliding.” Sure enough she is using the ramp as a ski slope…going down backwards. She tries to get up the ramp several times, digging in but keeps sliding back down backwards. There was no traction with these boots. Gracie, who was halfway up the ramp, did not lend her a hand. She remained cool and calm watching the funny situation of a handler out of control going past her fumbling for balance. Maggie and I laughed at Beth’s futile attempts to get up the ramp. I did walk down part of the way to grab Gracie so Beth could get her dignity back as she went in to change to tenners. Then she came out to close the doors so I could leave by the side door. Function over fashion won out

Glitch 3: Beth and I were so busy with the crowds that we did not have time to take off our jackets or winter hats. After 2 hours I looked in the van mirror to check my hair… My wool ski hat had been on backwards the whole time with the tag out front. Maggie did not tell me and neither did Beth. I wondered why the ear flaps felt off and the string ties more in my face.

Glitch 4: Beth did a great job of cleaning the horses’ hooves after each break from the van. However the last time Beth and I went in, Beth just happened to look back to see and gasped. I looked at what she saw, 8 little manure tracks. Oh no…how could this happen…It wasn’t the minis….it was ME. When I loaded the minis the last time, I stepped in a pile in the van. Beth and I sheepishly ran to the van got a brush and dustpan to scrub up my manure tracks. As we are running to the door hoping to get the manure off the carpet before any one sees it, Beth yells at me to stop. She looked at my shoes. “I have to clean those.” she said. I walked back to the van, raised each leg so she could pick my feet and wipe them off with a cloth. I am thinking if people walk by, see me leaning on this post with my leg bent backwards, with Beth bending down picking my boots, and they are not horse people, they are going to wonder. Then we raced to the entry way and brushed up the pieces before anyone saw them.Now I know how a horse feels when they we pick up their back legs to pick their hooves.