“Hello Gorgeous! Where have you been all my life?” Is the greeting our little copper-colored therapy horse gets from one of the gentlemen we visit at a memory-care facility here in Georgetown, Texas.

It is amazing to witness the resident’s transformation as “Goodness” approaches him wearing reindeer antlers and a red cape, which is of course what every miniature horse wants to wear during the Christmas season.

Astonishingly, just seconds before Goodness walked her four hooves squarely up to the man, he was uncomfortably stooped over, glassy-eyed and unaware of his surroundings. As if trying read a label written in very small print, he begins to stare into the horses deep brown eyes. All at once he sits taller and reaches a shaky, wrinkled hand out to the velvety soft muzzle and announces in a surprisingly confident voice, “Hello Gorgeous! Where have you been all my life?” This man, like most of the people in these elder-care homes is a fading sunset.

The edges of memories can be haunting places.

The connection between human and equine contains a substance I have yet to understand. It is part cognition for sure, but there is also some kind of hybrid connection that is similar to spirit and emotion that takes place.   The edges of memories can be haunting places. As humans we are unaware of the frayed thoughts behind those glassy, distant eyes of those with memory loss, because we are trapped by needing language. For horses, verbal language seems unnecessary and is even distracting. For them, understanding the human comes through the connection.

Unspoken signals

It is fascinating watching the differences between our two therapy horses. We have discovered that Mercy is the adorable friendly clown. Bless her white and spotted, fluffy-little self, she just seems to waddle along with the flow no matter what. Goodness, however, is very sensitive and is picking up signals loud and clear that no one else can hear – unspoken signals. Curiously, she struggles to approach some residence because of the remnants of memories they fondle. These memories and thoughts may not seem to match the human they are in, and it doesn’t sit right with her.

You may at this point, be tempted to think it is inhumane to expect a little horse to enter into a connection with a fading sunset, if it is disturbing to her in any way. On the contrary, the relief and healing we see taking place after Goodness has made her connections is well worth her hard work in approaching these folks. So, we enlist specialists and spend purposeful time training Goodness in how to make these connections then let the stress of the situation go. We support her through it. If it has been disturbing to her, we help her in her decision to release what she experienced.

In fact, it is so humane, that I deeply wish we humans who are more sensitive to the pain of others could learn, like Goodness, to face our sunsets and the sunsets of those around us. With the support and care of those who love us, we can approach those who are in this struggle and help them through it.

Surely your goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life…. Psalm 23:6