Unsung Heroes: Taffy makes people’s lives a whole lot sweeter

Breanna RedheadSouth Western Times
Taffy the miniature horse is bringing joy to people across the South West.
Camera IconTaffy the miniature horse is bringing joy to people across the South West. Credit: supplied

A 13-year-old miniature horse is making the lives of residential facility residents a whole lot sweeter, spreading infectious joy and helping the elderly “forget their woes”.

Since 2022, Taffy has been brightening the days of people across the South West as a therapy horse — visiting aged-cared homes and residential facilities with his owner Tracey Booth and her daughter Margaux.

Originally bought as a family pet in 2020, Tracey quickly noticed just how quiet and docile the creature was.

A former palliative care nurse with a passion for animals, she saw an opportunity to combine her two loves.

“I’ve always wanted to incorporate animals into health care,” she said.

“I noticed that there was a full-sized horse over east that did nursing home and residential facility visits and I thought, we could probably do that with Taffy.”

As it did many things, the pandemic saw Tracey’s plans unable to properly get off the ground, until she approached Archer and Sons Funeral Homes in July 2022 about sponsoring Taffy and the equine therapy program and they embraced it with open arms, eager to be involved in a positive and rewarding community service.

Taffy with owners Tracey and Margaux.
Camera IconTaffy with owners Tracey and Margaux. Credit: supplied

Since then, the small horse has travelled from Harvey to Margaret River, connecting with all manner of people and leaving nothing but smiles and laughter in his wake.

“It just gives you the warm fuzzies to see people light up,” she said.

“It’s just amazing to watch, the residents themselves and even the staff would get to see their residents come to life.”

Tracey said Taffy had also had an amazing response for non-verbal people, whose memories come alive by simply smelling or touching the horse.

“The dementia wings are normally where we get the most contact,” she said.

“Taffy is voice trained so he can get right up close to people in beds and chairs without causing any harm.

“I think he senses that some people are a little bit less verbal and mobile ... his body language changes, he drops his head and he relaxes and he’s very gentle.

“He brings back lots of memories for people, a number of people have said ‘I had a pony’, or they’ll go back to their room and get their photos of their horses that they’ve had in their lives and bring them out to share with everybody ... it’s quite amazing.”

Taffy helps brighten people's day connecting with residents across the South West.
Camera IconTaffy helps brighten people's day connecting with residents across the South West. Credit: supplied

And seeing this reaction from residents is rewarding not only for themselves, but nurses, staff and family members too.

“We had one gentleman at a home and he was very resistant to taking his medication,” she recalled.

“We went in on this particular day, and he got up and he just hugged and hugged and hugged Taffy, and he picked up all his feet, looked at his tail, went all over him ... just absolutely connected with Taffy.

“As we walked out, the nurse came out to me and grabbed my arm and she burst into tears, she said the man had just picked up and taken his tablets without prompting for the first time in probably six months and it was the first time the nurses had really seen him come out of his shell and be himself.”

Tickled pink by bringing joy to others, Tracey described the visits as an incredibly rewarding experience.

Taffy loves making new friends all over the region.
Camera IconTaffy loves making new friends all over the region. Credit: supplied

“I’ve got that personality, where I want to bring happiness to people and care for them,” she said.

“If I can walk away from a visit knowing that I’ve put a smile on someone’s face, and it just made their internal core feel a little bit healthier, then I’ve done a good job.

“If I know that, by visiting somebody for five minutes with my pony leaves them feeling good and forgetting that they’ve got arthritis or that they no longer live at home and forgetting their woes, then to me that’s pretty special.

“I just love doing it and I’ll keep doing it for as long as I can.”

Those interested in receiving a visit from Taffy are encouraged to get in touch, or simply follow his adventures via the Facebook page Giddy Up Taffys Therapy Travels.

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