A Little Horsing Around Brings Smiles to Seniors
Little Mayble doesn’t speak a word of English, she stands just 34 inches tall, and has a ponytail that brushes the floor. But according to Chuck Kish, lead pastor of Bethel Assembly of God in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, this gentle girl — who is by far the church’s youngest commissioned EMS chaplain at just 15 months — is making a greater impact upon lives, gathering more media attention, and creating greater awareness of a desperate community (and national) need than anyone ever expected.
Mayble is a therapy miniature horse, who comes complete with vest, two pairs of sparkling shoes, and a winsome personality that brings cries of joy and smiles to faces of those who have had little to smile about.
“It’s scientifically proven that just being in the vicinity of a horse changes brain chemistry,” says Lindsey Jones, Mayble’s owner. “And Mayble proves that over and over again — when we walk into rooms at the nursing home, people’s faces light up, they clap their hands, and they’re simply filled with joy to have Mayble visit.”
Although even the thought of a therapy miniature horse is heartwarming, Kish explains that Mayble is part of something much bigger that God is in the process of doing in the community.
Kish says last fall he learned that the Church of God (COG) Home, which Kish describes as excellent, had close to two dozen people who never or rarely had any outside visitors – ever. He also learned this was not unusual — it was commonplace among most nursing homes.
“There are several circumstances that lead to this,” says Kish, who is also an AG U.S. Missions chaplain. “A person can be estranged from his or her family, their family lives too far away to visit more than once or twice a year, or, for older residents, they have simply outlived all their friends and family.”
Burdened with that thought, Kish says God stopped him in mid-sermon to ask for volunteers who desired to be a part of a compassion visitation team to regularly visit at least those who rarely, if ever, received visitors at the home. This is not all that unusual of a request at Bethel, as the church is known for its chaplaincy services it provides to area first responders.
Among those who stood that day was retiree Nancy Poley, whose husband, Frank, volunteers as an EMS chaplain. She says it was just that week that God put nursing home visitation heavily upon her heart, explaining that Sunday proved to be a “God appointment” for her. Having cared for her mother in a nursing home for three years, Poley knew that there was a desperate need for this type of ministry.
Poley says that after going through training, she along with several other started visiting the COG Home last fall. She visits with six to eight of the seniors on the list each time she goes for her weekly two- to three-hour visit.
“One of the things that I’ve learned is that it often takes a long time to develop relationships because many of those I visit have Alzheimer’s or some sort of short-term memory struggles,” Poley says, “so it is so exciting for me when one of the residents recognizes me or welcomes me when I stop by their room to visit.” And recently she had one resident ask to pray for her!
In December, long-time Bethel member Lindsey Jones, who had recently moved to a small farm, asked her husband, Michael, for a miniature horse for Christmas . . . enter Mayble, who Lindsey trained to ride in the back seat of her extended cab pick-up truck.
Shortly after getting Mayble, Lindsey’s son, Levi, who had been struggling with illness for two years, became seriously ill and was admitted to Hershey Medical Center. Depressed and upset by his illness, Lindsey comforted her son, explaining how the Bible says that all things work together for the good of those who love Him [Romans 8:28]. “Perhaps you’re going through this right now so that we would train Mayble as a therapy horse and we could come back here, visiting other boys and girls, and you could empathize with them while at the same time bringing a horse to see them!”
Lindsey would later mention the horse therapy idea to Kish. The church already had its nursing home ministry started, so when Lindsey started talking about a therapy horse going into places like hospitals, nursing homes quickly came up.
“It just kind of began to spiral from there,” Lindsey says. Kish agrees, marveling at how God orchestrated things.
When Lindsey and Mayble made their first visit to the COG Home in early September, it was like Christmas all over again.
Jennifer Michaud, the recreational director for the COG Home, says the residents get very excited about Mayble visiting. “The staff gets pretty excited around here too,” she says.
Poley adds, “When we walked into the room, you could see the excitement on their faces. And when we left, there were a lot more smiles on faces than usual!”
Lindsey explains that Mayble is therapeutic as seniors use fine motor skills to pet her, engage in social conversations, and her presence provides a sense of joy and emotional support.
“Last time we were at the home, Mayble and I would visit one room and then Nancy [Poley] would follow behind and see if she could pray with them,” Lindsey says. “I think having interacted with Mayble places the residents in a more positive and receptive mindset, so they may be more willing to share their prayer requests with Nancy.”
Michaud says that after Mayble visits, she’s the topic of conversation throughout the home. In fact, Mayble’s visits have Michaud’s phone ringing off the hook as the local media has picked up on the story and have set up multiple interviews and news reports about Lindsey and Mayble.
“Our prayer is that the media exposure will lead other churches to get involved in creating teams to visit perhaps the loneliest people in the world,” Kish says. “There are so many nursing homes and likely every single one has residents who rarely, if ever, have visitors. What an opportunity to show the compassion and love of Christ! Keep in mind, just because a person is older doesn’t mean he or she knows Christ.”
Kish reports that already one person rededicated his life to Christ due to Mayble, but not someone he expected. He explains that two companies — an in-home care company (MedStaffers) and a funeral home — learned about Mayble, and together have sponsored her for $1,700 to help offset the cost of caring for her. A salesman for MedStaffers, when they were looking to sponsor Mayble, decided to attend the church service when Mayble was commissioned. There, the salesman was once again exposed to and convicted by the gospel message. He would return the next Sunday and give his life to Christ.
“The young man later asked me, ‘You don’t suppose God brought that little pony into my life to get me back to church, do you?’” Kish recalls. “I told him He absolutely did!”
Kish says Mayble’s and Lindsey’s work is already getting ready to expand beyond the nursing home. Once Lindsey finishes her training to be an EMS chaplain, she and Mayble will be on call with local law enforcement and possibly even funeral homes. “Young children are exposed to deaths and tragedies more times than we’d like to think,” Kish says. “Meeting with Mayble and a trained EMS chaplain will give children that opportunity to get away, process, and even ask questions.”
As far as Lindsey is concerned, she’s shocked that she and Mayble have garnered so much media attention, but is excited at the growing opportunities to help make a difference in people’s lives. “As Pastor Chuck says, ‘Why wouldn’t God use one of His creations to open doors?’ That’s very much my hope!”