KAILUA-KONA — The title of Kid’s Best Friend used to belong to dogs.
Enter Calypso and Peaches.
The two miniature horses stole the love and attention of a group of kindergartners Thursday at Kahakai Elementary School when they visited the school with the volunteers of Therapeutic Horsemanship Hawaii — Kona.
The group brought in the horses to teach the young children proper animal care.
“I try to emphasize the amount of care they take, like feeding them three times a day,” program director Nancy Bloomfield said. “Because kids just think, ‘I want an animal to love,’ but there’s a lot of work that goes into it. They learn the responsibilities.”
Called the “Therapeutic Horse Mom” by her fellow volunteers Linda Meservey and Debbi Williams, Bloomfield is the main caretaker of Calypso and Peaches, so she knows the amount of work that goes into looking after the miniature horses. Bloomfield began her presentation with the children by telling them what Calypso and Peaches eat, and how much, and by demonstrating how to brush them properly.
Then the children took the reins on grooming and petting the horses for the morning.
“I liked brushing them,” kindergartner Nicholas Cranwell said after interacting with Calypso and Peaches. “They’re fun to ride, too, but I can’t. I’m too big.”
Therapeutic Horsemanship Hawaii — Kona is a volunteer-run organization that holds mounted riding sessions for children and adults with special needs. The organization also owns three miniature horses — Calypso, Peaches and Makakoa — who are trained therapy horses.
Miniature horses are under 38 inches tall and are well known for being trained service and therapy animals. Calypso and Peaches are even house trained.
Bloomfield, Meservey and Williams take the dynamic duo of Calypso and Peaches to schools, daycares, hospitals, nursing homes and private residences for horse therapy sessions.
“It’s part of our community outreach,” Bloomfield said. “Just last week, we were at Kona Community Hospital. We went to the mental health unit to have a therapy session for the residents there, for them to pet the horses and lead them around.”
Calypso, at age 22, is a former competitive cart driving horse from California. Peaches, 17, is a former trail ride horse. Bloomfield said they both have their strengths and weaknesses as therapy horses.
“(Peaches) is totally calm, she’s perfect around kids and she’s a really great therapy horse. We can take her to a nursing home and she’ll put her head right on the client’s bed, right on the resident’s bed, and let them pet her,” Bloomfield said. “(Calypso), on the other hand, doesn’t have the therapy thing. But when you put a harness on him and put him to the cart, he’s like, ‘Now I know what to do.’ He’s learning, but he’s a rascal.”
At Kahakai Elementary School, the two are educational tools more than they are therapy animals, so their duties Thursday were to be patient and gentle with the children — as well as to look cute.
“I think it’s a special opportunity for kids who may have never had access to animals like this. Some kids might not even have pets and have never had the experience of being able to take care of an animal before,” kindergarten teacher Elissa Fiedler said. “We just did a whole unit on taking care of pets and the responsibility that comes with that, so giving them the experience to interact with animals like this, they can start to understand the value of having a pet and what it means to be responsible.”
Being able to have a good relationship with an animal is an important part of childhood, volunteer Williams noted.
“The grandma in me just loves seeing the kids witness something they’ve never done before,” Williams said. “When I was a young adult, I had horses, and I haven’t had them since, so it takes me back. I enjoy reliving that part of my life.”