Assisted Living Facility Residents get a Holiday Visit from an Unusual Guest

Posted on Jan 27, 2021
Sherry Newman and her Quarter Horse Cricket visited Assisted Living Facilites.
Sherry Newman and her Quarter Horse "Cricket."

Cricket the Quarter Horse proves to be the perfect visitor at the end of a difficult year

Cricket, a 17-year-old quarter horse from Clark County, Kentucky has been all over the country competing in ranch-type events, including ranch-horse competitions and ranch roping and doctoring. It is what she does in the equine world. In fact, she spent much of last year working on a 60,000-acre California cattle ranch.

Quarter horses make up the largest equine breed in the world and are known for their work ethic, as well as being calm and quiet, making them great people horses.

Having been around the breed most of her life, Cricket’s owner Sherry Newman knows this better than anyone.

“Cricket was bred on a ranch in Montana, and I bought her as a yearling,” Newman said. “I have raised and trained her, and she has been all over the country working and competing. I often say she has travelled a million miles and seen and done a lot over the years.”

Newman lives on a “small-scale” farm, as she calls it, where she has her own horses along with a couple that she trains for other people. But her day-job is Culinary Director at Arcadian Cove, an assisted living facility in Richmond. In being so involved with the residents there, she wanted to do something special for them around the holidays.    

“The facility director and I were having a conversation about trying to come up with a special event with all the COVID restrictions that are out there, and I suggested bringing Cricket,” Newman said.

The suggestion turned into a plan that included a lot of petting and hugs for the horse, along with photo ops with the residents, decorations, and hot chocolate to complete the perfect holiday setting for an enjoyable day.

“The original plan was to have Cricket visit the courtyard areas that are located on either end of the building, but we were experiencing 40 mile an hour winds that day,” Newman said.

That presented a problem for the residents who wanted to get close to Cricket, so an alternative plan was devised that included bringing the well-mannered quarter horse inside to a large lounge area.

“My director wanted to make sure Cricket would be okay inside, and of course I knew she would be,” Newman said. “She's been a million miles and done everything from A to Z. So, I knew she would be fine."

Christian Sexton, the Community Director at Arcadian Cove, admits she was a little nervous at first when it came to having a horse come inside the facility, but those fears were soon calmed when she saw how well Cricket took to being inside and how much joy it brought to the residents.

“Cricket was so very well behaved that I was just over the moon, and so were our residents,” Sexton said. “So many of them had grown up on farms with horses that they started telling their stories to us and telling their stories to each other.”

For more than two hours, residents got their picture made with Cricket, got their time to love on the quarter horse, and continued with those stories. In addition to the petting and hugging, one resident even said she shared secrets with Cricket knowing she wouldn’t tell!

Sexton said even though everyone maintained social distancing, they were all patient in waiting for their time with their special guest.

“There were so many smiles that we hadn't seen in almost a year and since all the COVID regulations started in March, we’ve really missed that glimmer our residents have in their eyes and those beautiful smiles they have. It was very good for them.”

Newman said with all the restrictions that have been put into place, the year has been tough for many people living at the facility, as well as the staff, so the visit with Cricket couldn’t have come at a better time.

“The residents shared so many stories that we had never heard before,” she said. “We saw some of the biggest smiles that day and it just brightened up their Christmas and they're still talking about it today, every day.”

Newman relayed one story about a resident who was unable to leave her apartment area due to being in hospice care.

“But she really wanted to see the horse, so we made a one-on-one visit and it was really a special treat for her to actually have Cricket visit with her so she could pet her and love on her,” Newman said. “It really brightened up her day? and her life? for that moment. It was very touching and emotional to see her interact with Cricket.”

Horses have a long history of being beneficial for humans on many different levels.

Lissa Pohl, who works in the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and is an equine-assisted learning (EAL) practitioner, has not only seen the power of horses to heal people but also how they can provide insights and awareness to healthcare professionals who need to improve their bedside manners and connect with their patients.

 “These types of beneficial horse-human interactions are way more common than you might think”, she said. “There is an actual physiological response that occurs when we connect with horses. The bonding hormone oxytocin is released. Combine that with the size and presence of a horse then you can really experience the benefits horses bring to our lives.”

While Cricket gets much of the accolades for the day, Sexton said it is the relationship Newman has with the residents and the facility itself that really helped make the event a success.

“Sherry is more than just a wonderful chef, she really understands our mission and is such an important part of Arcadian Cove,” she said. “And during this event, I saw that Sherry and Cricket have such a great connection, and it's not just a pet. It's more than that, and she was able to share it with so many people, and it was just beautiful.”

While Cricket has no desire to retire from quarter horse work or competition, she did seem to enjoy the attention she received from her many new friends, Newman emphasized.

“I'm hoping to bring her back this Spring, if not before… I mean, if they want her back sooner, I'll take her back anytime,” Newman exclaimed.

Cricket most likely agrees.

For more information on the different types of Equine-assisted Services (EAS) that incorporate horses to benefit people go to: https://equine.ca.uky.edu/content/adoption-uniform-terminology-assists-legitimizing-equine-assisted-services-eas.