Meet Trigger the therapy mini horse

Pictured above is Therapy Junction Physical Therapist Lori Gufstason and miniature therapy horse Trigger. 

Trigger is a miniature horse, used as a therapy horse at Therapy Junction in Fort Payne. This type of therapy is known as hippotherapy.

Lori Gufstason, a physical therapist at Therapy Junction, is the caretaker of Trigger. Gufstason has a ranch where she can accommodate Trigger’s needs.

Hippotherapy is a form of physical, occupational and speech therapy in which a therapist uses the characteristic movements of a horse to provide carefully graded motor and sensory input. A foundation is established to improve neurological function and sensory processing, which can be generalized to a wide range of daily activities. Unlike therapeutic horseback riding (where specific riding skills are taught), the movement of the horse is a means to a treatment goal when utilizing hippotherapy as a treatment strategy.

Hippotherapy has been used to treat patients with neurological or other disabilities, such as autism, cerebral palsy, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, head injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, behavioral disorders, and psychiatric disorders.

Some people confuse a mini horse with a pony. The difference between a pony and a mini horse is that ponies can measure up to 14.2 hands (56.8 inches) and a mini horse must be under 34 inches up to the last hairs at the base of the mane at their withers. (Minis are measured in inches rather than hands). Ponies are usually stockier than horses with a wider barrel and thicker neck. They often have a thicker coat, mane, and tail than a horse.

Miniature horses, on the other hand, are currently bread to resemble a full-sized horse on a smaller scale. The current miniature horse is bred to be more refined than the pony, with a long, flexible neck, straight legs, and a short back.

According to Horse Illustrated - “Horses of all different shapes, sizes, conformations and temperaments are offered to therapeutic riding centers daily, but most are not accepted. Owners might be left wondering why, if they are donating a horse for free, would he not be taken by a nonprofit therapy program. Not every horse has what it takes to enter a therapeutic riding program–including soundness at all gaits, a sweet temperament and low flight response–all of which are required to give clients a safe experience.”

Gufstason said Trigger is a certified therapy mini. In basic training, the horses learn to walk up and down steps, ride in elevators, walk on unusual floor surfaces, carefully move around hospital equipment, and work in small patient rooms.

They need to calmly handle unexpected sounds from hospital equipment and patients who suffer from disabilities that might make them utter surprising sounds. Therapy horses are trained to be gentle with children and the elderly.

They must also be house trained to go in nursing homes and hospitals. “Trigger is like a dog, in that he doesn’t use the bathroom indoors,” said Gufstason. “Triggers size makes him perfect for children to become acclimated to a horse. The children learn to lead Trigger through an obstacle course and spend time grooming him before exposure to a larger horse.” Gufstason said she is aware of some mini horses being used as seeing-eye animals.

Follow Spotlight on Business in the Times-Journal this weekend to find out more about this cutting-edge therapy when Therapy Junction is spotlighted as the business of the week.

Trigger’s Motto: ( No doubt if trigger could talk, he would quote Sir Winston Churchill who said) - “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”

— Marla Ballard’s Who's Who appears in the Times-Journal Wednesday editions.

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