Bob Nichols stood in a hoop the place he slowly pushed a brush by means of Fred’s mane.

“You can rest your arm on him. That’s awesome. He likes it,” mentioned Janice Chapman, a volunteer at High Horses Therapeutic Riding Program in Sharon.

Nichols saved his eyes on Fred, a Haflinger cross pony who’s a part of Kindred Spirits, a brand new program launched by High Horses earlier this month that pairs horses and other people with a dementia prognosis. Nichols and Billie Jean Lyons are the primary contributors. They pet, brush and lead the horses together with help from volunteers and workers; they don’t experience the animals.

Nichols, 76, is usually nonverbal, mentioned Steve Mason, who works at Sunapee Cove Assisted Living, the place Nichols and Lyons reside.

“He’s getting into it right away. It energized himself,” mentioned Mason, who regarded on in awe as Nichols continued to brush Fred. Mason has identified Nichols for round three years. “I can’t believe he’s keeping at it over there. It’s keeping his attention.”

Currently in its pilot stage, Kindred Spirits was based by Shari Gliedman-Baker, program administrator on the nonprofit group. Prior to becoming a member of High Horses, she labored as an occupational therapist in expert nursing amenities, together with reminiscence care models.

Horses are prey animals who reside within the second, responding to what’s round them.

“For people with dementia, they’re very much the same,” Gliedman-Baker mentioned in a cellphone interview earlier this month. “They live in the moment, so we kind of think of them as kindred spirits.”

Last summer season, Gliedman-Baker invited workers from space reminiscence care houses and grownup day facilities to High Horses to study extra about this system. But COVID-19 got here roaring again, delaying these plans. This March, the pilot program launched and Gliedman-Baker is at present recruiting extra contributors.

When Lyons and Nichols arrived Wednesday morning, they went outdoors to go to the horses standing within the solar. A barn cat named Tuffie greeted the group as they approached Kora, a bay warmblood and former present jumper.

“Isn’t she soft, Billie Jean?” requested Abigail Simmons, an occupational remedy intern at High Horses.

“Yes she is,” Lyons, 69, replied as she pet Kora’s nostril. “Want to pet him, Bob?”

Nichols approached with assist from Mason and put out his hand. Lyons stepped again to assemble Tuffie in her arms, who tolerated being held briefly earlier than angling to be again on the bottom.

As Nichols gave Kora cautious pets beneath her chin, Gliedman-Baker stood again in marvel.

“This is why we need to do this program,” she mentioned.

After greeting the horses outdoors, the group returned to the barn. Lyons started to brush Dixie, a gray Percheron/Welsh pony cross mare. They had fashioned a fast bond throughout an earlier go to. One of Lyons’ arms glided over Dixie with a brush and the second adopted with a clean pat. Dixie stood patiently, barely transferring as hair puffed off her physique.

“They … feed off energy, so they can sense the energy the individuals are putting out and respond to that,” mentioned Simmons, who’s from Nebraska. “Part of why they’re so calm is they know what they need to do for the people who are around them.”

Chapman stayed beside Nichols, sometimes holding his hand to information it alongside Fred’s mane and physique. Before working with Nichols, Chapman, of Enfield, had been instructed Nichols didn’t wish to be touched, however at one level he grabbed her hand.

“It just meant so much,” she mentioned later, tearing up. “When I saw his eyes, it just hit me. It warms my heart.”

After brushing was finished, Nichols and Lyons led every of the horses across the ring. Each held a lead whereas a volunteer held one other. After round an hour, it was time to say goodbye. Lyons and Nichols each had a second alone with every horse to offer pets and thanks.

“I think I like their attitudes. When you connect with a horse and you know they like what you’re doing, it’s special. It’s like finding a new friend,” Lyons mentioned. “You connect with the horse. You feel how comfortable they are. It’s that bond.”

Editor’s word: For extra details about Kindred Spirits, electronic mail

Liz Sauchelli might be reached at or 603-727-3221.

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