November 2022 by Kathy Van Mullekom
Meet animals and their humans who bring hope and more to people who need it.
When Rocky and MacKenna Pence see each other, you instantly know they are BFFs. Rocky’s ears perk up, and MacKenna’s eyes light up.
It’s a loving bond and a therapeutic relationship that started a year ago between Rocky, a quarter horse in his late teens, and MacKenna, a petite six-year-old who lives with a rare medical condition called Prader-Willi syndrome. PWS typically causes poor muscle tone, short stature, cognitive deficits, speech issues, and a chronic feeling of hunger. Rocky is helping MacKenna overcome many of those obstacles through weekly riding sessions.
“MacKenna, you want to brush Rocky?” asks Barb Ford. She’s a licensed clinical counselor and riding instructor who operates Untamed Spirit, a 12-acre adaptive, therapeutic riding farm and gardens in the Pungo area of southeastern Virginia Beach.
“Yes, brush Rocky,” answers MacKenna in her small voice.
MacKenna is dressed in her favorite riding attire, wearing leggings and a beige dress imprinted with miniature brown horses prancing across the fabric. She dons a protective riding helmet and begins brushing Rocky’s chocolate brown coat.
“A year ago, she couldn’t even hold the brush,” Barb says.
Children with PWS also feel a lot of anxiety, according to MacKenna’s mom, Ruth.
“Rocky calms her,” Ruth explains. “He is very soothing.”
Rocky is one of thousands of helpful and calming therapeutic/service animals in Hampton Roads. Without them, many people would be frightened, isolated, and forgotten. Here, we meet a few of those animals and their handlers and trainers who bring hope, sunshine, and assistance to the people who need it the most.
Read the article in Tidewater Family Plus: Therapy Animals Spread Smiles