ALEXANDRIA TWP., N.J. — “Dr. Livingstone” or Stanley as he is better known, will be inducted into the New Jersey Animal Hall of Fame at ceremonies on March 11,
Stanley is a 24-year-old, 16.2-hand tall Dutch Warmblood therapy horse.
Every year, the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association (NJVMA) honors the human-animal bond by recognizing special animals that have made a difference in someone’s life. The annual hall of fame has recognized over 100 animals since its inception in 1996. It is an opportunity to recognize how special animals are and the valuable contributions that they make to peoples’ lives.
According to the nomination submitted by Riding With HEART’s executive director, Christina Baxter:
Stan has been a therapy horse for 18 years. Through the years Stanley has exhibited special abilities time and time again to people of all abilities. He has provided much needed exercise for people with physical disabilities and limited mobility. He listens to those people who need someone to talk to and is the class clown of the barn. All you have to do is find the right spot on his belly to scratch and Stan will make the funniest face that brings laughter to all.
Stanley has helped many individuals through the years. The following are just a few of the many examples of how special this horse he truly is:
Dave, a gentle giant of a man, who had developmental disabilities began riding Stan when he was in his late 50’s. There was an instant connection between Stan and Dave. The communication and bond between the two souls, horse and rider, was magical. One of Dave’s favorite things to do was to bring Stanley in from the field all by himself. Stan would see his buddy Dave walk through the gate and he would stop grazing, walk to meet him then stand still, patiently waiting for Dave to open the clasp to hook to his halter. Slowly the two friends would walk to the barn. On the way Stan would give Dave a tender nuzzle every now and then.
Every week when Dave rode Stan an amazing thing would happen. Like moths to a flame volunteers and visitors in the barn would stop their task and flock to the fence line to watch this duo. This weekly mass exodus from the barn was something Dave’s instructor had never witnessed before. Watching Dave and Stanley brought so much joy to those watching it truly was magical. Dave loved to play the Rainbow Ring game while riding Stan. He would choose a colored rubber ring and walk the horse up to the corresponding color pole and put the ring on. No one was quite sure how Stan knew which color pole to go to as we could not detect any steering on Dave’s part, but Stan would calmly walk to the correct pole, stop, pause and wait for Dave to place the ring on the pole.
Unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending. Dave suffered a cardiac event in his sleep one night and passed away. When Dave’s sister called his riding instructor to tell her the devastating news she began to cry for the first time since hearing of her beloved brother’s passing. Dave’s sister asked for one favor. She asked if she could have Stan’s lead rope. Dave was buried in his riding clothes and boots with Stan’s lead rope in his hands.
Through Stanley’s 18+ years of a therapy horse he has not only taught many people how to ride, Stan has become an “equine therapist.” The Riding with HEART staff joke that a shingle should be hung on his stall door “Dr. Livingstone- Equine Therapist. The Doctor is in”.
Riding with HEART has a group of emotionally and behaviorally challenged teens that come and participate in an Equine Assisted Learning program. “John,” 12, came with this group of emotionally and behaviorally challenged teens. On John’s first day at the barn the instructor asked, “Which horse would you like to work with?” John responded, “Stanley”. John was slight in stature, not quite 5 foot tall yet and all skinny arms and legs. Stan is the biggest horse in the barn, so the instructor tried guiding John to a horse better suited to his size. John only wanted Stan insisting Stan was his horse.
John worked very hard learning to groom Stan. As John groomed he whispered to Stan, constantly and giving him kisses on his muzzle. John always hugged Stan quietly wrapping his arms around him and laying his face on Stan’s soft fuzzy neck. Stan nuzzled and played with him right back. As John worked with Stan not only did his self-esteem and confidence grow so did his physical strength. When John first began working with Stan John was unable to pick up an English saddle but after 6 months and a lot of determination John was able to not only carry a saddle and even could lift it up onto Stanley’s back.
John was a ward of the state. His parents gave up their parental rights when he was very young. Living in institutions and group homes John did not get any physical contact with others so this hugging, kissing and physical interaction with Stan was very important to John’s emotional development.
While at Riding with HEART and working with Stan John never exhibited any negative behaviors — ever. The staff of the group home were always amazed by this. One Saturday the group showed up for their regular session, John got out of the car very agitated and close to being in emotional crisis. The group home staff reported to his instructor that John had been in this emotional state since he awoke that morning. The staff and therapist at the group home tried to calm John but nothing worked.
Riding with HEART’s instructor tried teaching the horsemanship lesson but John was angry and crying and disrupting the lesson. He even threatened eloping. The instructor could not continue with the lesson because of this disruption and didn't know what to do so she took John by the hand and quietly led him into the barn, opened Stan’s stall door and told said “Stan, you have to help your buddy”. The instructor guided John in Stan’s stall and she quietly waited outside the door. Stanley instinctively knew what to do, he nuzzled and played with John and checked John’s pockets for treats. Soon John was nuzzling and hugging him back. Within eight minutes of being in the stall, John was out of crisis. He turned to the instructor and with a smile on his face exclaimed, “OK, can I ride now?!” The therapist, a medical professional, couldn’t help John that morning but Stanley did.
Due to his size Stanley can intimidate people but he doesn’t let that get in the way. Stanley knows just how to put people at ease as soon has them petting him. Baxter has noticed that Stan will quietly place his forehead over someone’s heart and just stands like that until the person calms and begins to relax. He also can be trusted for riders who are newly independent off the lead line. He takes care of them and helps them build their riding skills but also their confidence.
These stories are just a few of the many stories of how Stanley has demonstrated his special abilities to people with disabilities when it mattered.
To learn more about Riding With HEART see www.ridingwithheart.org/
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