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“I always wanted a horse, but my parents couldn’t afford it and they weren’t very interested in it,” Pat Bolen told us. “So I had to be satisfied with drawing pictures and labeling body parts of a horse.”
As time went on, the dreams of owning a horse were replaced by becoming an adult, having a career and raising children. Pat worked at Carle Arbours Nursing Home for quite some time. “I was the Director of Activities, Volunteer Services and some of the Alzheimer’s programming there,” she said. After she married her husband Ron, she stayed in Champaign while her son finished high school.
While in the grocery store, Pat ran into Tom Henson. Henson showed her a picture of a horse that he had that needed a home. “All that little girl passion for horses rose back up and I started taking riding lessons at St. Mary of the Woods and got a horse.”
When Pat visited her father, she was shown a picture of a visitor who came to see him with a therapy horse. “I thought, ‘oh my gosh, I want to do that’.”
Even though she felt more than ready, taking care of her father was more important. “I couldn’t do it because I was having to do my dad’s groceries, laundry and taking care of him.”
Pat’s father passed away that next year. While going through his things, she came across the photo of her father and the mini horse. She started looking for certified mini therapy horses. That was when she found her first horse, Hope, in a video of her visiting a nursing home. “It was like, ‘I want a mini horse, but I want that one’,” Pat said.
She made the phone call to see if Hope was still available. With no answer, she left a message. “When I hung up, I said a little prayer to God that if this is the right thing for me to do, make it happen.” No sooner than she finished her prayer, the phone rang. Hope was available. “I just said I’ll take her.”
At the time, Hope was just eight months old. The day after Christmas 2018, Pat along with her husband made the drive to Indianapolis. “We put her in the back of our Ford Expedition and drove home the day after Christmas in rush hour traffic.”
After the other horses arrived, she wanted to make sure they knew Hope was in charge.
“Hope is the queen of the stables. She thinks she’s in charge of everything and bosses everyone around,” Pat told us.
Two years later, Zacchaeus came along. He was a stud colt and the only male on the property. During the waiting time to have him gilded, he began to have a lot of testosterone and Hope was coming into heat. “I was calling him the monster. He was just a handful and he was a biter. You have to get him to respect you. I did some work with him and was surprised. He’s a quick learner and he’s smart.”
Cowpie followed in July of 2020 from a trip to Biggsville, Illinois. She’s the smallest of the horses at only twenty-six inches tall. Her name originally was ‘Little Caramel Latte’ because of her colors. “When I picked her up and looked her over, then looked at her face and said ‘Oh my gosh, she looks like a cow. She’s so ugly, she’s cute.”
Mocha was brought down from Minnesota later that year. “She’s the most beautiful one of the four,” Pat said.
With four horses, Pat has made the decision to stop, but it’s not an easy decision. “The mini horses are like what they say about potato chips. You want another, then another.”
Four different horses mean four different personalities and tolerance levels. After working with the horses and figuring out personalities, Pat knows which horse she can take to events and put in parades and complete with costumes.
“One horse may not mind and the other might act like ‘what is this? Get it off of me,” she said.
For that reason, Pat is taking things slow to get to know them better.
Pat takes the horses on walks around town quite often to get them comfortable with the transition from one flooring surface to another. “Sometimes switching from a tar road to concrete, a side walk or something that looks like a different color, they will balk at that,” said Pat.
The process of getting the horses acclimated to different environments and settings is one of patience. The mini horses are often taken up and down stairs to get used to steps. For the nursing home settings, they have to be desensitized to the noises in a nursing home. Such as the loud speakers, beeping, carts and wheelchairs.
Pat has brought the mini horses to Pleasant Meadows in Chrisman a couple of times as well as Paris Healthcare for Nursing Home Week and Twin Lakes Rehab. “They enjoy it as much as the residents,” Pat said.
Now that she had traveled around and made a name for herself, the name for her hobby hadn’t been figured out yet. One night, while lying in bed, she began thinking of a name. “I thought mini horses are cute and funny and I thought it needed a whimsical name and it just popped in my head.” The name Whinny Knickers.
The name comes from the noises that the horses make, but some who are not familiar with horses aren’t sure. “Horses whinny and knicker,” said Pat.
Pat took the horses in 2019 to the First Baptist Church’s western themed Bible School and to do window visits during the COVID outbreaks. With such a small van, Pat likes to keep the visits close to home. “I think forty-five minutes to an hour is the absolute max when I travel with them.”
While having a conversation at Brooke Knight at Knight Insurance, it was brought to Pat’s attention that the Chrisman Public Library has a children’s program. “I don’t have kids anymore, so I’m not in the loop,” she said.
Brooke encouraged Pat to speak with librarians Beth Daily and Cheri Oates to set something up. “I went to the library and told it might be fun to have a little interactive time with the horse and have a story,” Pat said.
The children of Chrisman will now have a chance to meet Cowpie at the Chrisman Public Library. Pat will be there with the mini horse to tell her story. “It’s about how Cowpie got her name and her trip home,” said Pat.
Looking ahead, Pat has considered photo shoots with the horses, making them into unicorns. “They bathe them, get them all fluffy and pretty, then put the little horn on them. Then the photographer takes pictures of the girls dressed in their pretty dresses and everything,” Pat said.
She hopes to grow this hobby and make it sort of a ministry if she’s able to get into more nursing homes. She’s also does journaling about her adventures being a horse owner. One story comes from her own two horses escaping the pastures and making their way through town.
Everyday, she’s usually greeted by Zacchaeus who has a stable where he can see her pull into the drive. “It’s not a business for me, it’s more of a hobby and I don’t want it to be work. My pleasure is seeing other people enjoy the horses.”