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Therapy Horse Needs Therapy

FOR RELEASE: November 29, 2004

Mary Lou Thall was concerned; the kick was bad, made worse by the size difference of about 1,000 lbs. Puddle, one of her miniature, or "Mini," horses, was accidentally kicked by a young Connemara sporthorse filly while coming in one evening.

Initially, Puddle seemed OK given the early radiographs. Yes, their vet said, it was broken, but it looked as if it would heal on its own in time. However, after a week Puddle still was not putting weight on the limb, so Thall called Cornell University Hospital for Animals and made an appointment.

Puddle ended up in surgery, where the stifle was reset with pins and plates to encourage healing with proper alignment. Following surgery Dr. Norm Ducharme, medical director of the Equine and Farm Animal Hospitals and professor of surgery, recommended an active recovery program to bring Puddle back to soundness. "Minis, because of their size, can get along on three legs, unlike a full-sized horse," Ducharme says. "However, this creates a problem with contracture of the connective and muscular tissues in the injured limb. Puddle will need manual therapy several times a day-stretching to elongate the tissue in the limb and preserve and regain range of motion."

While Puddle has been at Cornell, Karen Havas, a fourth-year veterinary student, has been in charge of his case and provides the manipulation and walking therapy several times a day. "He is very easy to work," she says. "He tries very hard to do what we ask."

Puddle and his brother, Toot, named after the popular children's book series by Holly Hobbie, came into Thall's life about three years ago. Her farrier was in the Midwest at an auction and had been asked by Thall to look for a couple of ponies for her grandchildren. He saw a matched pair of dun Minis come out of the back of a van-not a horse van, a minivan-and knew they were just what Thall wanted.

Puddle and Toot came to Triple Creek Farm and were Thall's first experience with Minis. She breeds Connemara ponies and sporthorses. However, within minutes of meeting the Minis she was taken with them. "My husband was not thrilled with acquiring two more horses. At least they are small. He jokingly refers to the two ponies as my attempt at 'downsizing,'" she says.

"The marvelous thing about these two is their trainability-I've never worked with such calm, trusting, and loving horses. Their composure is such that one day I decided to try them as therapy animals."

Thall made arrangements with a local senior community, and took them in to visit. Toot and Puddle were a hit! They dealt with the new surroundings, the noise, and the people with complete calm. They also seemed to know when a person particularly needed some attention and gave it.

"My favorite moment with Puddle was when we were asked to visit a man who had been a horseman and was now immobilized in bed," Thall says. "Puddle and I went in and he looked at the pony. I moved Puddle next to the bed and the man moved his arm to stroke Puddle's mane. The man began to smile, and tears of joy streamed down his face."

In addition to their therapy work, Puddle and Toot also are a competitive driving team. They compete regularly in shows running the same obstacles as the larger horses.

Puddle's prognosis is good. He will need time to recover and regain the use of his limb. While Puddle's competitive career may be limited, his career as a therapy horse seems assured. "I am so pleased with the care and attention Puddle has received at Cornell," Thall says. "I knew Puddle was in the very best of hands with Dr. Ducharme. He will be just fine."