Horses of Hope visit brings smiles to residents

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
The Timbers of Jasper resident Wilma Qualkenbush smiles as she is greeted by Skeeter the horse, led by Qualified Medication Aide Crystal Cruz, during a visit from the American Senior Communities Cavalry, Horses of Hope, at the nursing home in Jasper on Monday. The horses normally visit nursing homes at picnics in the spring, but due to COVID-19, the horses are doing window visits instead. The horses' owner, Wess Jackson, said: "Seeing the smiles is unbelievable.”


JASPER — Helen Brockman, 84, placed her hand on the window of her room at The Timbers of Jasper Monday afternoon to greet Skeeter, a palomino horse whose head almost touched the gutter outside the window.

“Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,” Brockman said of the horse.

Skeeter is one of the American Senior Communities Cavalry’s Horses of Hope. Wess Jackson, an executive at ASC, his wife, Marci Jackson, and their son, Eldon, brought Skeeter — along with another horse, a pony and their dog, Cinch — from their Indianapolis home to The Timbers Monday as a way to brighten the day for residents and staff amid COVID-19. The Jacksons have been touring Indiana and making stops at each of ASC’s 87 locations.

The Timbers of Jasper resident Mary Eckert smiles as she is greeted by Skeeter the horse during a visit from the American Senior Communities Cavalry, Horses of Hope, at the nursing home in Jasper on Monday.

“With them being shut in, we thought we could at least do window visits,” Wess said. “Seeing their smiles is major. It’s one thing to take care of people physically. It’s another to meet their psycho-social needs.”

The Jacksons know dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially challenging for ASC employees and residents, as senior care facilities have closed their doors to visitors. They hoped their animals could bring joy to the employees and residents during the pandemic while still obeying social distancing guidelines.

If the residents hurrying to their room windows to see the animals was an indication, it worked. At each window, Wess knocked and called out a greeting — usually “Howdy!” — and chatted with the residents while the horse stood outside. Staff members followed close behind, leading the other horse and the pony.

Timbers of Jasper Executive Director Beau Kellams said the residents were excited for the visit.

“It’s unique,” he said.

Some residents asked if they could come outside to pet the horses. Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option this time. But when the COVID-19 restrictions lift, the Jacksons will be back.

During the spring and summer, they take their animals to cookouts at various ASC locations to add to the family events. There’s no word on when those cookouts can begin, though, so in the meantime, the Jacksons are taking their animals for window visits. The Timbers of Jasper was one of the last stops on the first tour, and Marci said they’re already planning to make the rounds again for window visits.

“Hopefully we don’t have to do round three,” she said.

If the pandemic lasts that long, though, she said they will.

The Jacksons and their horses aren’t the only ones making window visits at The Timbers. Kellams said many of the residents’ families also come to the windows for visits while the building is closed. The windows by the front doors are painted with bright colors from activities that go on during those visits.

No one knows when the visitor restrictions will be able to be loosened, Kellams said, but in the meantime, he and his staff are determined to do what they can to keep the residents’ spirits — and their own — up.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to help out,” Kellams said. “With the horses, we’re just trying to make our residents smile for a minute.”

Qualified Medication Aide Crystal Cruz leads Skeeter the horse around the building while he stops to snack on the greenery at The Timbers of Jasper on Monday.

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