How a miniature horse named Trusty became a beloved therapy animal
Trusty may be the smallest horse in the Methow Valley, but he’s also the most well-known.
The miniature horse stands right around hip height and weighs in at a whopping 220 pounds. You may have seen him marching in the Fourth of July parade in Twisp or attending parties at Little Star Montessori School, but Trusty has a schedule that is jam-packed with therapy work, as well.
Heidi Weston of Mazama is the owner and caretaker of the most highly trained therapy horse in the country. Certified by Pet Partners of Bellevue, Trusty has completed a rigorous training program that has prepared him for the most stressful situations any species of therapy animal might face.
“He can go to a psychiatric hospital. He can go to a battle ground. Anywhere there’s a lot of chaos, heavy stress, heavy noise,” Weston explains as she leads Trusty out of a trailer that looks better suited to transporting Great Danes.
Trusty’s 3-inch-wide hooves make a hollow “clack clack” on the linoleum floors as he walks into Jamie’s Place, the retirement home and assisted living facility in Winthrop. As he rounds the corner to the kitchen, several wrinkled faces light up.
Dorothy Pritchard (age 92) welcomes Trusty’s fuzzy head into her lap at the kitchen table and gently holds a carrot out to his wiggling lips.
“You’re a sweet baby,” she said, running her hands through his mane and along his nose. Dorothy doesn’t remember that Trusty has visited her before, but she’s happy to see him every time he comes.
Weston remembers the first time she took Trusty to a memory care facility. He went over to a woman who Weston later learned had Alzheimer’s disease. The woman ran her hands over Trusty’s face and then held her hands to her nose, smelling them, and burst into tears. “I said, ‘Oh no, what’s wrong?’ and she said ‘Happy. Happy. Happy,’” Weston recalled.
The caretakers at the facility told Weston the woman was non-verbal at that point, but that she had had horses in her younger life and the smell of Trusty must have unlocked those memories.
“I knew, right then, that’s the magic,” Weston said.
Trusty has also worked with children with disabilities. He’s visited Camp Korey, a camp for children with serious medical conditions and disabilities outside of Seattle, where Weston said he met a young autistic boy. The boy evaded his two caretakers and ran up to Trusty and threw his arms around him, hugging him again and again.
“And then he spent the whole time looking at his face and looking at his eyes,” Weston recalled. “He was putting his fingers in Trusty’s ears, up his nose, tracing his feet. Trusty just stood there calmly. And the boy’s support people said this is the most quiet he’s ever been.”
Heidi Weston grew up around horses. As a kid she’d spend summers at her uncle’s dairy farm, riding every day. Later, when she lived in Kirkland, she finally bought her dream horse, a gaited horse named Bombay.
Unfortunately, Bombay developed strained fetlocks and was placed on stall rest for a year, which, as an energetic 3-year-old, was incredibly hard. Weston was hand-walking him for one of the first times in his rehab process. Her friend was riding along beside her and began to set off in a different direction down the trail. Bombay became nervous and spooked.
Weston doesn’t remember what happened after that. When she regained consciousness she was on the ground, her face was bleeding profusely and her friend was hunched over her, screaming.
Weston was rushed to the hospital. The horse had kicked her in such a way that her nose was torn off her face and her chin and orbital eye socket were fractured. Weston’s bicep was also torn.
After multiple plastic surgeries and months of sleeping in a chair with debilitating vertigo, Weston was finally well enough to go visit Bombay — she said she still loved the horse and knew the accident wasn’t his fault. As she got out of the car and made her way over to the pasture, where Bombay was enclosed with eight other horses, she couldn’t help but notice a miniature paint horse, standing off by himself.
“He’s the low man in the herd,” the woman who was watching her horse explained, pointing at Trusty. “The rest of them pick on him.” Then the woman turned to Weston and said, “Do you want to take him home?” Weston laughed. “What am I going to do with him? He’s useless. I’m used to horses that have a job — but he melted my heart.”
And pretty soon, Trusty showed Weston what his job would be.
Weston’s mother was in assisted living in Kirkland at the time and asked Weston to bring Trusty for a visit. So, she loaded him into her full-size horse trailer and drove to downtown Kirkland.
“My mom opens the door and says, ‘Bring him in! Everybody wants to see him!’ So he kind of pulled me in there.” And then, Weston recalled, a funny thing happened. “He went from person to person and just said hello. And I’ll never forget thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is something he can do.’”
On a sunny morning at Jamie’s Place, Trusty moves around the table, greeting the other residents and tilting his head sideways, adorably, as he politely reaches for carrots. After 15 minutes or so, he paws the linoleum with his tiny hooves, a sign to Weston that he needs to go outside for a bathroom break.
“He’s never had an accident indoors,” Weston said proudly, as she led him to a green patch of grass beside the front door.
At 23 years old, Trusty may have another decade of therapy work left in him. Miniature horses can live to more than 45 years old. Weston has written Trusty into her will, just in case he outlives her.
“My lawyer thought I was crazy. ‘You really want to modify your will to put your animal in it?’” Weston chuckles. “But my niece knows she’s on the hook and she’s willing to do therapy work with him as long as he wants to do it.”