Big helpers in small packages: Mini horses help bring joy to those in need

Medical Watch
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Bigger than a dog and smaller than a pony … they’re unexpected visitors! But that’s part of their charm. Mini horses are making the rounds, bringing joy to those in need.

“Here comes Mystery!”

You have to see it to believe it … and even then it’s a bit of a surprise.

Jodi Diegel, founder and executive director, Mane in Heaven: “People expect a dog, they don’t expect a mini horse.”

Patient: “I just can’t believe there’s a horse in a hospital!”

Jodi Diegel: “Just like comfort dogs, we happen to have comfort horses. We go up to the pediatric floor, into the ICU units, we’ve been in the cardiac ICU. It’s not readily accepted in many hospitals yet so we’re very lucky that our horses are able to visit Rush University Medical Center every month.”

Jodi Diegel: “I’m a nurse, and I have two therapy dogs as well as two big horses. I found out people were using miniature horses for therapy animals and said, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to do that!’”

Jodie Diegel started with three miniature horses. Now there are seven in her herd and nearly four dozen volunteers – all make up the non-for-profit organization … Mane in Heaven.

Jodi Diegel: “Our motto and logo is we bring a little heaven to those in need, so visiting nursing homes, homes for disabled, domestic violence shelters, the hospital, it’s been an amazing journey.”

They board and train at Silver Lining Equestrian in Lake in the Hills. Three days a week the horses are put through the paces.

Jodi Diegel: “While it looks like our horses are very calm and desensitized, that is a lot of training to get to that point. Just like big horses, where there’s quarter horses, thoroughbreds. Miniature horses are their own breed. Ours range from 26 to 32 inches. They’re bred for pets also they do agility, confirmation and showing but also for therapy work.”

All of the horses have been tested by a National Animal Assistance Organization.

Jodi Diegel: “We have an evaluator that comes to the barn. All of those commands that we do in our practice or training session, we have walk, whoa, stay, visit. When we say stay and give that 30 second command, they have to stay. It’s like obedience training for minis.”

Part of their training includes exercises to desensitize the horses to common distractions they come across during visits out in the community.

Jodi Diegel: “A wheelchair coming at them does not faze them. When we walk in there it truly is this inspirational, magic moment filled with awe.”

Patient: “Normally you see dogs, never a horse. It’s cool though.”

Jodie hopes to continue growing the organization, expanding the number of visits they do and would eventually like to build the mini horses their own training center that offers special services like physical and occupational therapy. The entire program is supported by donations and volunteers. If you’d like to learn more about Mane in Heaven, go to

Join Mane in Heaven for a bowling fundraiser May 15 at Pinstripes in South Barrington. The minis will be outside for pictures. Advanced tickets are $30 for adults; $15 for children 6 to 12. Includes three hours of bowling, pizza, flatbread, appetizer's, cookies, unlimited soda drinks and a Mane in Heaven souvenir.

To learn more about the upcoming bowling fundraiser on May 15, log on to their website



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