WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. — Honey and Sugarfoot are working the room.
The four-legged superstars are part of Honey's Mini Therapy Adventures, a remarkable nonprofit that uses miniature horses to connect with the community.
Today, the minis are socializing inside the Beach House Assisted Living & Memory Care facility in Wesley Chapel.
That's right: the horses are inside, decked out in sparkly hoof booties and fashionable equine outerwear in case of bathroom emergencies.
The residents "get excited weeks before [the mini horses] are coming," said Bonnie Berkman, Beach House executive director. "It's hard to stay dry-eyed when you see the interaction with Honey and the horses."
The horses feel that love, too, said Mary Rose Gullet, the founder of Honey's Mini Therapy Adventures.
"Horses have a very empathetic nature," said Gullet, a Tampa Bay native whose childhood was spent riding horses to a local McDonald's.
"They can read emotions, and they can respond to emotions that are projected out."
Gullet started the mini-horse nonprofit a few years ago. Honey was the original star — the OG mini if you will — at first, just a gentle pet for her children.
But Gullet saw the docile, loving magic this tiny animal possessed and knew she was meant for bigger things.
Since then, a growing stable of horses (they travel via "mini" van, of course) have visited grade schools, colleges and hospitals. Waiting out the pandemic was tough, but now Gullet and her furry friends are bringing the love once again.
"These horses are impacting every aspect of the community, from the youngest to the oldest," said Gullet, who is currently getting her master's degree in social work to make her visits even more impactful.
At college campuses, she's seen the horses help break down barriers between students and campus police.
They're inspiring work with dementia and Alzheimer's patients in places such as the Beach House has been nothing short of miraculous.
"A lot of our seniors in the areas we serve grew up on farms or around farms, and they'll remember that they rode horses over the years or that there was a farm down the road," said Gullet. "And the horses will bring back those memories, and that's incredible to see."
For more on Honey's Mini Therapy Adventures, click here.