I am no stranger to failure. Patrick and I have lost more classes than we can count. I showed Patrick for six whole years at our state fair before we won a blue ribbon. There have been plenty of times where we, and other horses, were unfairly looked over for the sake of politics in the show ring. Of course it makes everyone angry, especially when they spend so much time preparing, driving all the way to a show, and paying extravagant entry fees. Unfortunately, there isn't much anyone can do about it. Then, of course, there are always other who will be better and more experienced. The most important thing you can do is learn from it. When Patrick and I first started showing, the only ribbons we ever got were in leadline (where they almost always give everyone a first place ribbon) and costume. Even in the costume class, which we were most famous for, we often came in last. When I was little, it didn't matter how cute you were, the BEST costume won! Losing teaches you to be humble. It also teaches you to work hard- work harder than everyone else spend more time than everyone else. Patrick wasn't born to be a world champion with flashy coloring and a fiery temperament. So we had to work to get him in shape and make him more of a competitor. This meant hours of training on end, for both of us. Losing shouldn't crush your hopes and dreams, it should fuel them. Every time you fail, you learn something and it makes you even more passionate. Failing and losing are the most important things you will ever do. Being a good loser is the most important skill you will ever have. Patrick still isn't a fiery champion. We didn't win a SINGLE blue ribbon last year (granted we only got to go to the 3 shows that are left), but he is a passionate competitor who puts his heart into what he does. It still hurts to hear your name called last, or not at all. It's even worse when a judge doesn't even look at you. But we never stop learning, and we never stop improving. That's why losing is so important.
Almost 22 years ago, a little chestnut horse was born in North Carolina. He didn't have great bloodlines, he wasn't flashy, he wasn't a "champion". So, he was sold to someone else who soon realized the same thing, and cast him aside to be a petting zoo animal. Eventually, though, he was sold to a small family, with a little girl, who wasn't quite two. He was supposed to be a pet, and a friend. And the two grew up together. The little girl rode the little horse, she tried to keep up with him as he would trot ahead of her, and pushed and shoved her so he could eat his grass. After four years, the girl's parents asked her if she wanted to take the little horse to a show- somewhere that they could have fun together, and meet other little girls and little horses. Of course, she agreed, and had great fun. They won their first class together- the costume class. With the little girl as Mrs. Clause, and the little horse as Rudolph, the pair won over the judges, and received a blue ribbon!
The two continued to show for many years, and the little girl grew into a young woman- but the little horse did not grow. No, he was still as little as ever. After the shows they used to attend were not longer popular enough to run, the two had to move onto other things. First, they started to visit patients in hospitals! The little horse was so kind and friendly, that he was able to go anywhere and visit anyone! He would go and lay his head on the beds of the sick, and comfort them in their times of trouble, as the girl watched with pride. The little horse was so little, in fact, that his hooves fit into tiny shoes, made for teddy bears, and he was able to ride in elevators! The little horse loved to make the people he visited, but not nearly as much as the girl.
The little horse was also very good at jumping. He would jump over anything he could- trees, poles, flowers. He could leap over two times his own height! The girl and the little horse would practice for hours and hours together on jumping and other tricks. Sometimes the little horse could still outrun the girl, even though his legs were much shorter than hers!The little horse was so good at jumping, that he was invited to jump where no other little horse had gone before! Suddenly, the little horse was among the world's best champions- even Olympians! The little horse and girl performed in front of hundreds of people, and were invited to many events all summer long. The little horse also made friends from all over the world- most of whom had never even met him. Thousands and thousands of friends who loved the little horse dearly, but still not as much as the girl.
The little horse and the girl were still friends- best friends. The girl would sit with the little horse for hours, braid his long hair, give him carrots when he wanted and, of course, practiced lots, just like when she was little, too. The little horse knew all of her secrets and troubles, but never told a soul. The girl would talk about the little horse wherever she went, and tell everyone how wonderful he was. About how, after 18 years, their friendship was stronger than any between two people. About how he changed her life, and the lives of others. About how, despite being so little, he still managed to jump higher than big horses, and give more love than many people. About how Patrick is the little horse that could.
Although there is great enjoyment in all of our endeavors, the most rewarding is going on therapy visits. In April of 2014, Patrick was evaluated by a group in Louisville, KY to become a registered therapy horse. I had taken online classes over the course of a few months through Pet Partners to learn the ins and outs of therapy work. At our evaluation, there were barking dogs, scary wheelchairs and lots of people to make sure Patrick was completely prepared for all situations he may encounter on visits. Patrick passed with a “complex” rating, which allows him access to school, nursing homes, hospitals and even psychiatric wards.
On our first visit, we went to a facility called the Kindred Healthcare Clinic. The floor that we visited mainly housed patients who suffered from diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and are confined to ventilators. Most of the patients in this unit will never be able to leave the hospital again, and many cannot even talk. The first patient was a man, about twenty years of age, who was restricted to his bed. When we first entered the room, he was very cautious and stroked Patrick’s muzzle with only the tips of his fingers. It was not until we were just about the leave that he leaned over and said “I love you, Patrick. Thank you.” In a few minutes, we had been able to make at least a little difference in this man’s life and bring some joy to his otherwise lacklustre day. When we returned for a second visit, we were able to visit another man who was in the deep grips of ALS. He was paralyzed from the neck down, but when he saw Patrick walk in, a large smile crept across his face. This man apparently had a great love of horses, as he had multiple posters of Friesians, Quarter horses and Arabians hung on the wall of his hospital room. The hospital’s events coordinator, who went with us to every room to help with patients who had physical impairments, said that the patient had been feeling very gloomy as of late, and the staff and his family were losing hope. She said that our visit with him was the happiest he had been in weeks, even months, and that she had to contact his family immediately, to tell them! I was so honoured and humbled to have been able to improve this man’s day.
It can sometimes be a quite daunting experience to deal with those who are less fortunate than ourselves. It is depressing to see those who have no hope of ever leaving the confines of their beds- never to go outside, to laugh with friends, to live, again. The key is to always have hope and always be helpful and happy when you are with them. We must always remember that it is so much more difficult for them than it is for us, and it is our duty to brighten their days, not the other way around. This is why we visit patients- I may be the only bright spot in their lives. All the sadness is worth the pleasure of seeing a smile on the face of a person who has nothing to smile about. Even with all of the happiness that Patrick brings to patients, it is minuscule compared to the joy he brings me every day.
"Patrick was able to go into the resident’s rooms and visit with them as it was difficult or near impossible for most of them to come out. He was gentle and engaging and most of all comforting. His little “horse shoes” did not hurt either. But beyond all of that that he was an experience of the outside world that many residents had not seen in years. Some residents had not been any further than the front door of the facility due to their fragile condition and him being there was a chance to provide them with contact of something wonderful from the outside. The most memorable of Patrick’s visits was interacting with a resident who had end stage ALS and loved horses but hadn’t seen one in years. Patrick was able to come into his room and the resident was able to touch Patrick and interact with him and his wonderful owners in ways he had never engaged with anyone before. Patrick and his abilities are special and very much needed with people that need the comfort that we as humans may not be able to give." -Karrie Kimbrough-Woods
Patrick's heroic work as a therapy horse and ambassador earned him induction into the KY Veterinary Medical Association's Animal Hall of Fame in 2015.
To find out more about animal assisted therapy and how you can get involved, visit petpartners.org
To schedule a therapy visit or appearance for a fundraiser from Patrick, please fill our the contact form