BROKEN BOW — Jet seems to know when someone needs a nuzzle, a reason to smile or a quiet moment rubbing his neck and remembering other good times — often decades ago — spent with a horse.
Jet, a miniature horse, and his owner Teri Edeal of Johnson Lake have come a long way and traveled thousands of miles in the 15 months since they successfully completed Hilltop Canine College’s basic dog obedience course in Kearney.
Jet’s obedience training and Edeal’s completion of online classes offered by Pet Partners, a national therapy animal program, were the first two big steps toward reaching their goal to be a certified animal therapy team.
“I always wanted to use horses to reach out to people,” Edeal told the Hub on Canine College graduation night in June 2018. “I’ve tried several other things, but God never opened those doors ... but he said, ‘Here’s Jet. This is the way I want you to do this.’”
Jet, who turned 2 in April, was 9 months old when she got him from a St. Libory area breeder.
For Edeal, focusing on the steps toward Pet Partners certification was the perfect transition into retirement at the end of July 2018. She had worked 31 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, including 28 at Lexington’s NRCS office.
“Most of what I had to teach him there was no precedent for,” especially for a miniature horse, Edeal said. Jet’s learning list included getting his teeth brushed, regular baths, being comfortable around wheelchairs, riding in an elevator, potty training and being calm around loud noises and “erratic hands.”
Once Edeal found a method that worked for each behavior on the certification checklist, Jet learned quickly.
At Pet Partners therapy animal certification testing in October at Heartland Pet Connection in Hastings, “he passed with flying colors,” Edeal said with a proud mom smile.
Broken Bow visit
“Nothing bothers him,” she added.
That was clear last week when Jet met residents of the Brookestone View senior living facility in Broken Bow. He gave kisses, shook hands, was petted and hugged, and cooperated when Edeal brushed his teeth and tied four tiny black-and-white sneakers — purchased from Build-a-Bear Workshop — around his hooves.
Edeal explained that Jet’s “horse shoes” are necessary when they visit places with slick tile or cement floors.
The pair began visiting schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other places in southern and central Nebraska in December.
Even with taking June and July off, they have traveled more than 5,500 miles in Edeal’s crew cab pickup. Jet rides in the second row with the seats folded back.
He and Edeal take in stride the teasing they get at the facilities they visit as a therapy team and in other public places. Edeal said that at restaurant drive-through windows, they get second looks and comments such as, “That’s not a dog.”
She started her Brookestone View presentation by explaining that Jet is a miniature horse with the same proportions as a standard horse. When Edeal took Jet from person to person in the room where residents had gathered, the jokes began.
“Looks like a circus horse.”
“I don’t think he’d do well at a rodeo.”
“I thought you said you were bringing a horse.”
There is one thing almost everyone wants to know: When and where Jet goes to the bathroom.
The training needed to have those answers was a certification requirement and Edeal’s biggest challenge. “There was no one who could tell me how to potty train him,” she told her Broken Bow audience.
The answer for the pooping part was to teach him to use a mat designed for indoor dogs that is set in a specific place in Edeal’s house.
She takes Jet outside several times a day, similar to a dog, and he pees on command. Edeal said the key to that training success was taking him outside until she saw him relieve himself. She immediately used a clicker and a treat as an incentive to pee at a set time.
“It took him about three times. He’d go right away because he knew he’d get a treat,” Edeal said.
“I would, too,” one man joked.
Also related to treats, Edeal said carrots are Jet’s favorite and she made him a carrot cake for his birthday. However, he doesn’t get treats while working as a therapy animal, which keeps him focused on his job and not begging for treats.
Edeal hopes to get ideas for new training goals in two weeks at the 2019 Pet Partners Conference in San Antonio.
“One of the guys (Tuffy Thompson) here had a tip on how to get Jet to lie down,” she said about a possible new trick.
Edeal also would like to train Jet to whinny on cue because people, especially kids, often ask what he sounds like. “He’ll whinny, but he just doesn’t do it on command,” she said.
“He’s very quiet when we’re in facilities,” Edeal added. “... Honestly, I think he thinks he isn’t supposed to whinny” while he’s in animal therapy mode.
Horse with heart
When asked what makes Jet a good therapy animal, Edeal said, “He has a great personality. You can tell he has compassion with people. He loves to nuzzle ... or do whatever he can do.”
That’s why their time as animal therapy partners has “absolutely” met her expectations.
“He just brings a lot of smiles,” Edeal said. “There are some people who do not want to pet him and that’s OK. And those who want you to come and stay a half day.”
School kids often “swarm him” and senior citizens almost always have horse stories to tell.
Edeal is accumulating stories of her own about how important Jet’s visits are to seniors, children and people with disabilities.
During a recent senior living facility visit, she noticed a woman hanging back from the other residents. Staff members told Edeal they never could get the woman to smile.
Before leaving, Edeal took Jet to the woman and asked if she wanted to pet the horse. The woman was reticent, so Edeal took the woman’s hand and ran it along Jet’s mane.
“She just lit up,” Edeal said. “She just LIT UP! The staff said they had never gotten that reaction from her. So that was worth it.”