Sure, you’ve seen a therapy dog before, but how about a miniature horse?
That’s right, mini-horses can be trained much the way a dog can to work as service animals, and this is the basis for the local nonprofit Jacob’s Mane of Hope, founded by Rosalind Sachaczenski of Northampton.
Rosalind created this foundation to spread joy and healing in honor of her son, Jacob, who is adopted from China.
“We started this foundation to spread enduring love and leave a lasting impact on those who are sick or struggling,” Rosalind said. “The joy you see on someone’s face when a horse enters their bedroom while we are making house or hospice calls is priceless.”
Jacob is legally blind and has a learning disability.
He handles most of the work with the horses, house training and caring for them.
The foundation used to have a guide horse named Jacob, who acted as a service horse to help the human Jacob navigate through streets.
Rosalind introduced her children to horses from a young age and was inspired by spending a lot of time in the hospital with one of her kids.
Jacob’s Mane makes in-home visits as well as visits to hospitals, nursing homes and hospice.
One recent visit was to Brookdale Senior Living in Richboro.
The moment the therapy horse, Miranda, who is eight-years-old, walked into the room, the energy shifted to positivity and excitement.
A crowd of seniors continued to grow as they greeted Miranda, petting her nose and watching her do a “side step” dance with Rosalind and perform.
The joy a mini-horse brings to a room is priceless.
There’s the same effect when visiting someone in hospice or the hospital.
Everywhere they go, Jacob’s Mane focuses on spreading hope and joy.
The nonprofit relies on donations and the help of volunteers to continue training horses, bringing them on visits, and spreading love that abounds from each horse.
“I like bringing joy and love to people who are sick and in need of help,” says Jacob, who is 22.
The philanthropic endeavors of everyone at Jacob’s Mane make a large difference in the lives of those they visit, and in the horses they take on.
“Most horses we have are rescued from slaughter,” says Rosalind. “They are quarantined for 30 days and evaluated if they can be used for therapy.”
Cindy McCaffery, a member of the foundation’s board, often joins in on visits and helps with the horses.
“When we evaluate the horses for service, we walk them up and down along the side of the road to see how they respond to the loud noise,” says Cindy.
Sometimes a horse that isn’t fit for a life of therapy will be micro-chipped and transferred elsewhere.
Mini-horses can live to be 35 if they are well cared for.
They are genetically bred to be smaller than a horse should, so they have a lot of health and physical problems.
Jacob’s Mane of Hope takes on as many horses as possible and currently has eight horses they work with.
“One of the horses we have is Ginger, a show horse who we saved from auction,” Rosalind says. “She’s trained so children can ride her. When we got her, she was sick with pneumonia and we found out later she was pregnant.”
Ginger gave birth shortly after.
There are many people who benefit from Jacob’s Mane visits, including autistic children.
“One child we visited was non-verbal, and after our second visit, he said some of his first words.”
What Jacob’s Mane does is so unique, it also fills the staff of senior centers and hospitals with joy.
“There’s so many negative things going on in the world today, we get to have this ray of hope that lights up the day for everyone,” says Stephen Porter, the activity director at Brookdale.
Francie Hoch, the executive director at Brookdale, was overjoyed to see Jacob’s Mane again at the center.
“They’ve been coming here for some time,” says Francie. “Often the horses will use the elevator. Last year, our residents held their annual fundraiser and chose to donate to Jacob’s Mane of Hope. They enjoy seeing these mini-horses so much.”
There are many other exciting projects in the works, like taking the horses to Temple University for a study on how therapy horses affect chemotherapy and cancer treatments, and working with students at Philly School of Oncology to help de-stress.
Rosalind wants their impact to continue spreading and has plans to begin a reading program with the horses in Kensington, one of the roughest parts of Philadelphia.
“If we can help even one person, it makes a difference and we have accomplished our mission,” Rosalind says.
To learn more about the foundation, visit www.jacobsmaneofhope.org.
PHOTO CAP: Rosalind introduces Miranda to some gathered residents from Brookdale Senior Living. Miranda is trained to dance, do tricks, nod her head and kiss Rosalind.