KENILWORTH, NJ — Many people aren’t exactly dog people, which might have limited their access to therapy animals — but that’s just fine because there are now other animals certified to make therapeutic visits to people in need. Michelangelo, a miniature therapy horse, is an example. He’s just about the same size as a very large dog, and he has a very calming presence that brings serenity with him wherever he goes. Since he was only 4 1/2 months old, Michelangelo has visited nursing homes, hospitals, and most recently made a visit to Kenilworth Public Library.
It was Monday, June 27 at 4 p.m. when Michelangelo’s new mom and trainer, Maureen Coultas, led him into the Kenilworth library. Parents and children anxiously waited in the lobby to enter the library where Michelangelo would be there to greet them. They were told to be extra quiet and calm so as not to frighten the horse.
“We have about 40 events scheduled here just in the month of July,” said Library Director Michael Maziekien. “We like to have something new and different. It’s even better when we can have a performance that’s up-close and personal like this in the library. This event was completely filled.”
“I’m familiar with therapy dogs as well as therapy rabbits,” said Robin Koerner, who works at the Kenilworth Public Library.
Animals have a calming effect on people and can make people feel more at ease in stressful situations. Michelangelo and Raphael, another therapy horse from Hope’s Promise Farm, recently visited college students at Montclair State University to reduce their stress prior to exams. Michelangelo has also visited nursing homes, where he put a smile on lonely people’s faces and made them reminisce about better days during their youth spent on the farm.
“Michelangelo just turned three years old in April,” said Coultas. “I’m certified to do this type of work, and I trained and certified Michelangelo. A lot of horses are friendly, but some are friendlier than others. Michelangelo loves being around people. When he was young, he would follow me around everywhere like a puppy dog.”
Coultas refers to herself as Michelangelo’s new mom, and she even shaved a heart into his fur as an expression of her feelings for him. As she groomed him in preparation to the performance, she also placed four tiny sneakers onto his hooves. She informed the group that this was to protect Michelangelo from falling.
“Horses hooves are like our fingernails,” Coultas said. “They can easily slip and fall on surfaces made of wood and tile. He should be okay on carpeting, but I don’t want to take any chances.”
After everyone took a seat, Coultas began by reading her book, “Michelangelo The Little Therapy Horse,” which told the story of Michelangelo and how he began his life as a therapy horse. He was born on a farm in Pennsylvania before he came to New Jersey when he was only 4 months old.
“He was already 70 pounds by the time I got him,” said Coultas. “He was very well fed, and we had to cut back on his grain. I decided to name him Michelangelo because he was going to be a therapy horse, and Michelangelo means ‘messenger of God.’ He also had a cross on his forehead when he was young.”
Audience members had a chance to purchase Coultas’s book, and the library decided to purchase a copy using the money that a few generous library members decided to donate from their lemonade stand. The book had a lot of pictures of Michelangelo, and some were quite humorous. Michelangelo is often dressed in costumes, such as an elf and Spiderman, which put a smile on the faces of many of the people he’s encountered along the way.
“Michelangelo loves to make people happy,” said Coultas. “One little girl we met couldn’t walk without her walker, but when she saw Michelangelo, she got so excited that she actually got up and walked over to him without her walker.”