By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
In lieu of the current pandemic, stay at home order, and prohibition of public access to numerous facilities, a lot of individuals have succumb to boredom and depression. One of the most difficult situations has to be that of the residents of nursing homes and their families. Even though Activities Director Marie Grafton and staff of Cortland Acres have worked diligently to accommodate the residents and their families during this trying time, nothing can replace the visit of a loved one.
Residents are used to being visited by a dog, which has been frequenting their windows from time to time since the restrictions were placed on the facility, but no one expected a visit from a much larger, four legged critter on Sunday. As a peck was heard on their window, approximately 80 residents were surprised to see “Poker” gazing into their rooms, a 1200 pound Bay American Quarter Horse lead by Becca Siler with the help of Hickory Orchard Farms.
Siler has been learning to train horses at Hickory Orchard Farms for the past several months and wanted to volunteer to make this happen for these individuals. “I wanted to give the people a happy moment during the time of the Coronavirus, just a time to be happy and enjoy something.”
Recently a video was seen on social media of a couple ranchers taking their horses to a local assisted living facility and was shared with Grafton to determine if this was of interest for Cortland. After speaking to Administrator Beth Clevenger, it was agreed that this would serve as an unexpected treat for their residents. Clevenger admitted, “For interaction (for the residents) you have to be creative since we can’t do this together as a group.” She continued, “This gives them things to look forward to and this (the horse visit) is just a great idea.” Clevenger commended Grafton and Lorri Cross, also with activities, on their diligence to ensure the residents remain their top priority, not only their physical well being but that of their mental and emotional.
As Poker rounded each wing of the facility, Grafton followed along inside with Cross communicating via radio outside. As the blinds went up and the residents focused on the horse, smiles spread widely across their faces. Some of the statements heard from the inside by Grafton included, “My Daddy had 10 horses,” and “His name should be Mr. Ed.” Many residents clapped, waved, and said thank you through the window.
Grafton explained that activities are still being conducted inside, however in a slightly different fashion. Channel four is being used to broadcast church services as well as play bingo. Cross added, “Some people never used to play and now they do.”
At the conclusion of the Cortland visit, we had a chance to catch up with Siler to learn more about her interest in training horses. “I am interested in learning to train horses because it is something I’ve felt like I’ve always wanted to do. Ever since I was little I just knew it was something I wanted to do and now I’m able to try it and it’s something I can enjoy.”
While working as an apprentice trainer, a youngster known as “Artie” came to the farm through unusual circumstances from a rescue organization. Siler worked with Artie, a three year old gelding who was stunted from malnourishment prior to rescue, weighing in at only 750 pounds and approximately 13.2 hands (54 inches) tall. Not only was Siler the perfect size for Artie, but they formed a bond instantly.
“As soon as I saw him I knew he’d be my horse,” Siler admitted. She explained she was drawn to him being a blank canvas at a young age giving her the opportunity to use her newly acquired training techniques at a prime time in his life.
With the help of her mom Melinda, Siler submitted her application to be considered for adoption followed by a visit from rescue volunteers to ensure Artie and she were a suitable match. After careful consideration on behalf of the rescue organization, Siler became the official owner of Artie. Siler has left him at the training facility to continue her work with her trainer and Artie together before she takes him home and sets out on her own with him.
When asked what her goals were for Artie’s future are to ”Definitely to be able to have him listen when I ride him and not buck me off, but it depends on what he’s good at.” She stated she aims to continue his training to discover what his talents and interests are and take him in the direction that he chooses.
Horses can bring joy in many ways; directly such as Siler training them or indirectly such as the residents viewing Poker out their window and sharing memories with Grafton.