Kathy Feeney and her three miniature horses have a mission: to bring a smile to as many faces as possible.
“It just gives me pleasure to bring a little happiness to other people,” she said.
Ms. Feeney, a 74-year-old retired special education teacher, began raising the animals as therapy horses at her Southold home around two months ago. She calls her new service Little Things Ranch.
“It was put in my heart,” Ms. Feeney said of the idea, which she got around a year ago while volunteering at East End Hospice.
Her first horse, Angel, came from A Little Magic Miniature Therapy Horses in Culpepper, Va. The animal previously worked in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Ms. Feeney then adopted Dezi, a driving horse that also has experience as a therapy animal, from Maine. Her third horse, Precious, also came from Maine and is currently a therapy horse in training.
Ms. Feeney said it takes a lot of time and patience to train the animals, but she finds the process rewarding. To educate herself, she has studied books and taken classes with a natural horsemanship clinician.
“She wants to give back to the community,” said Ms. Feeney’s friend Jim Mulhall. “I liked her determination and perseverance.”
Mr. Mulhall helped Ms. Feeney clear all the trees and bushes from her backyard so she could build quarters for the horses. He said he took a liking to the animals once Ms. Feeney adopted them and now helps her care for them.
“They take your stress away,” Mr. Mulhall said. “Everybody just seems to warm right up to them.”
Mickie Raynor of Southold, 96, has also enjoyed visiting. She said the horses immediately put a smile on her face.
“You just love them,” Ms. Raynor said. “I certainly enjoy coming to her home to see them.”
Ms. Feeney’s goal is to one day work with an organization like Pet Partners, a nonprofit that trains and registers volunteers and their animals that are looking to provide therapy to nursing homes, hospitals and veterans’ homes.
“Horses can be used as powerful assets as therapy animals,” said Evan Wight, a Pet Partners representative. “The most important part is that the handler of the therapy horse be able to proactively advocate for their animal and guide interactions to keep them safe and positive.”
This week, Ms. Feeney will bring Angel to Camp Good Grief, which is located at Peconic Dunes Camp in Southold.
“I think [the kids] are going to be so excited about it,” said Angela Byrns, a bereavement coordinator at the camp.
Camp Good Grief, which provides therapy in the form of music and art to children who have lost a loved one, has never been visited by a certified therapy animal before, Ms. Byrns said.
The experience can help children in many ways, she said. For instance, she explained, simply petting an animal produces a relaxation response. Animals also help reduce isolation and loneliness, build a sense of companionship and encourage communication.
Ms. Feeney said the visit to Camp Good Grief will mark her horses’ first official job. Soon, she also hopes to visit veterans’ homes and hospitals.
“If anybody needs therapy, they are more than welcome to use my horses,” she said.
Ms. Feeney said her favorite thing about owning Angel, Dezi and Precious is watching people’s reaction to them.
“Horses have always made me smile and it’s nice to know it’s through my passion that I can help others and make someone else smile,” she said.