A little over a month ago, I stumbled upon what might be the cutest nonprofit in Austin. Minis and Friends Austin is a group that loves miniature horses and wants to share their love with the Austin community.
Founded in 2007, the organization brings trained miniature horses, no taller than 32 inches, to visit facilities like children’s hospitals, retirement communities, and centers for at-risk youth or individuals in transition.
I’m excited to share a little about Minis and Friends because its volunteers are doing great work. Besides, who doesn’t want to see photos of adorable mini horses at work?
Minis on the Move
Minis and Friends operates a number of programs, but its most frequent undertakings are weekend visits. Horses from the herd are bathed and transported on weekend mornings to visit adoring fans. Many fit snugly in a mini van! They interact with people of all ages who may be suffering mentally, physically, or emotionally, and bring smiles to countless faces. The horses specialize in Equine Guided Interactions (EGI) which can lead to improved motor skills, increased ability to connect, heightened tactile response, and an overall lifting of the spirit.
There are a number of similar mini horse nonprofits across the state and country. While they often share tips and best practices with each other, each is independently operated. Mini and Friends Austin has sister affiliates in North Texas and South Plains (Lubbock).
The Power of Equine Guided Interactions
I was recently able to volunteer at a visit to Dell’s Children Hospital and witness Equine Guided Interactions. A number of families came to meet the horses. We even met some doctors and nurses. It was amazing to see the children’s smiles as they stroked the horses or gave them hugs. Some were nervous at first, but most quickly got over their fear through the calming presence of the minis. Children loved learning the horses names and were continually amazed they were fully grown.
Speaking of the minis, I was amazed at the transformation between when they were on duty and when they were not. Previously, I’d only worked with the horses during volunteer training, when they were on their own turf, happily trotting around or pawing the dirt when they got bored. When we first arrived at Dell Children’s Hospital, they were eager to explore and play around. However, as soon as the children and their families arrived, the minis immediately became calm, collected, and ready for hugs. They are incredibly empathetic animals and hyper-aware of human body language. This is a big part of what makes them comforting and therapeutic.
Little Horses, Strong Connections
Sally Iwanski is a co-founder of Minis and Friends, and also serves as Executive Director and President of the Board. She and her husband, Gil, own three minis: Mastercard, Remingston, and SeanMonet.
The couple shared with me some of their favorite moments working with minis over the last decade. They described seeing an adult woman cry because her elderly mother, who hadn’t spoken in over a year, touched the mane of one of the horses and began telling the mini-handler about the horse she had long ago as a child.
In another instance, at a facility for people with intellectual and cognitive challenges, a young woman in a wheelchair was unable to move her hands. When her brother laid her hand on Mastercard, she slowly uncurled her fingers. This was something she hadn’t done in years, despite physical therapy.
Those are just two of the many stories that keep Iwanski, the other mini owners, and their group of volunteers coming back weekend after weekend to serve the Austin community
Want to Help Minis and Friends?
Minis and Friends is entirely volunteer-run and self-funded. All visits to nonprofits are free of charge. The organization accepts donations to cover the cost of liability insurance and gasoline to transport the minis. When funds are available, the group also purchases giveaways like plush mini horses, to offer children a souvenir of their mini horse experience.
You can donate online to support the work of Minis and Friends. The group is always looking for corporate sponsorships and particularly donations for the silent auction at its 10-year anniversary party in September 2017.
If reading about playing with miniature horses and brightening people’s days sounds like fun to you, Minis and Friends is also on the lookout for more volunteers.
@theAustinot wants to know:
What do you love most about mini horses?
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