By John Lauritsen

GREENFIELD, Minn. (WCCO) — Therapy horses can do wonders for people. From physical ailments to mental health, they have been known to improve lives.

But there is one therapy horse in Hennepin County that has helped people while defying the odds.

“A horse doesn’t care how much you know, until he knows how much you care,” Pat Parelli, a famous horse trainer, once said. His words still holed true at Hold Your Horses, a farm in Greenfield that’s on a mission to change lives.

“And the horse offers us treatment that can’t really be replicated in the classroom or in a clinic setting,” said Janet Weisberg, the executive director of Hold Your Horses.

Weisberg is the occupational therapist at the farm. During her 25 years of doing this, she’s seen a lot of horses come and go. But one animal, has quite literally, put the business on her back.

“She’s always been the corner stone of this program and she’s really special,” Weisberg said. “She’s one of a kind. We like to think all of our horses are special, but Lily has really set the bar pretty high.”

That’s because an average therapy horse can only work for a couple of years. Lily has been doing this for more than 12. Her friends say she hit the ground running from day one, and the lives she’s touched are too many to count.

“It’s very rare. Therapy work is taxing on both people and horses,” said barn manager Ingrid Miller. “You are taking on a lot of emotional and physical work but she has the heart for it. She has seen it all. She’s done it all. She’s a pro.”

And the smiles on the faces of the kids she’s worked with say it all. Children with physical or mental health challenges have had their lives transformed, thanks to one horse.

But Lily is now facing challenges of her own. A serious health condition is forcing her to retire.

“I think the word you are looking for is miracle. Because I can show you x-rays of her feet and any professional that will see that will say: Wow is she still standing? How is she still alive?” Weisberg said. “We want to keep her comfortable as she sort of sunsets in her career and in her life.”

It’s not what anyone wants to hear. But this isn’t goodbye…not yet.

Five-year-old Sylvie was born with a condition called spina bifida. As she neared her second birthday, she was having trouble walking and was still trying to find her voice. But then she met Lily.

Month after month, visit after visit, the smiles grew and so did the confidence. By the time her therapy was done, a true friendship had formed. And Sylvie was walking, talking and empowered. Now she comes back just to say hi.

“I want to be a horse doctor,” Sylvie said.

“By the end of the time we were working with her she was pretty much keeping us all in line, telling us what to do,” Weisberg said. “It was just beautiful to watch the trajectory of this child.”

Moments like these are the reasons why retirement doesn’t mean Lily will be put out to pasture. At this farm, she’s already in the Stall of Fame. And while her legs aren’t what they used to be, there’s nothing wrong with her heart.

“We’re just so grateful she is still here,” Weisberg said. “It’s been an honor to work next to her all these years.”

There will be a party for Lily and all the horses on Sunday, Sept. 23 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Hold Your Horses. For more information, click here.

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