Originally bred in the mid-1800s to replace child workers in dangerous coal mines, miniature horses have recently become the fastest growing horse breed in the U.S., according to the American Miniature Horse Association. Their popularity has landed them new roles in therapeutic riding programs for autistic, blind and disabled children.
Miniature horses journeyed far to become today’s most beloved little therapists
Meet two miniature horses at the forefront of the healing horse movement: Itty and Bitty of Steele Away farm in Argyle, Texas. Itty and Bitty are local celebrities in their home state due to their popular visits with children at Texas schools and hospitals. Their champion, Nancy Carpenter Czerw, is an accomplished rider on the national horse show circuit and a volunteer with Riding Unlimited (www.ridingunlimited.org), a therapeutic horseback riding program founded in 1990 for physically, mentally and emotionally disabled people.
When Czerw first met Itty and Bitty, she was so charmed that she decided to bring their personalities to life with poetry and watercolors in the popular Itty & Bitty children’s book series. The series led to numerous events across the state of Texas. In her travels with Itty & Bitty, Czerw has seen the two minis make an emotional connection with hundreds of physically and emotionally disabled children that lack the ability interact with other kids and adults.
“Itty and Bitty don’t care about IV units or casts, or disabilities, “said Czerw after a recent visit with the minis at Dallas’ Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital. “It is hard to resist a little horse who can say hello at eye level to a child in a wheelchair or walker.”
Itty and Bitty’s gentle, affectionate nature and small size make the pair easily approachable and disarming. Research has found that the simple act of reaching out to stroke the mane of a mini horse can soothe a distraught child, lower blood pressure, improve range of motion and strengthen weak muscles. In fact, recent court rulings have extended the rights of the disabled to employ miniature horses as Emotional Support Animals (ESAs), much like service dogs.
In addition to the emotionally therapeutic value of these popular minis, Itty and Bitty teach children important lessons about life and the responsibility of caring for an animal.
Memorable Moments with Itty & Bitty
Told by Nancy Carpenter Czerw
On the lawn of a hospital in Dallas, Texas, a mother approached us with a wide-eyed, reluctant child. He was autistic- unable to connect to things around him through touch. But he had asked to “see” the minis, so they moved toward Itty. We encouraged him to touch Itty’s fluffy mane, and he put out his hand. The mini’s abundant hair made it easy to grab a hunk, and we lifted it toward the boy’s palm. He let it tickle his fingers, and then buried his hands against Itty’s neck. He went away, but came back again and again, to visit his new friend. By the end of the morning, he asked to sit on Itty’s back. We lifted him up, and set him down-bareback! He smiled, without fear or hesitation. Itty just took it in stride, but we were all amazed, knowing we had seen something very special in that encounter.
Other children on the hospital lawn were not able to get out of their beds, which had been rolled outside, or to step out of their wheelchairs. So Itty and Bitty just walked right up and stuck their muzzles into the children’s laps, nosing around the chrome wheels and poking into bed sheets, searching for carrots and treats. They didn’t care about the IV units hanging alongside, or the casts, or the disabilities. The children were smiling and squealing in delight. Itty whinnied. Everyone was laughing.
ABOUT NANCY CARPENTER CZERW
Captivated by their quirky pasture antics, Nancy Carpenter Czerw pairs her playful verse with the adventures of the two miniature horses who live at Steele Away Farm in Argyle, Texas. With the second release in the Itty & Bitty series this fall, Itty & Bitty: Friends on the Farm (McWitty Press, ISBN 0-9755618-3-9), Czerw’s poetry has helped these two minis become the smallest celebrities Dallas and Fort Worth have ever seen.
An accomplished rider on the national horse show circuit for almost 20 years, Czerw has consistently finished in the top ten in her division. She is a former high school English educator and has also taught developmental reading. A lifelong advocate for poetry and reading, she is regularly featured as a guest in various poetry venues. Czerw holds a B.A. in English from Mount Holyoke College and an M.A. in Teaching from Brown University.
“I write poetry all the time,” said Czerw. “I write serious poetry, but I also write for fun. I celebrate, as my kids say, anything and everything. If a friend falls off a horse or wins a championship, breaks an arm or whatever, it usually winds up in a silly ditty.”
Czerw, whose influences include Dr. Seuss, A.A. Milne and poet Ogden Nash, said the inspiration for the first Itty & Bitty book, Two Miniature Horses, came from a photograph of Bitty standing on a dock.
“A poem came to me,” Czerw said. “So I went home and wrote it, and it was very, very short. Then I just started writing, and it became a series.”
Czerw enjoys sharing her passion for all things equine as she is partnered with several charitable organizations in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, including Riding Unlimited, a therapeutic riding center for disabled children in Ponder, Texas. She accompanies the real life Itty and Bitty as they visit schools and make appearances at children’s hospitals, lighting up the faces of people, young and old.
Czerw currently resides near Fort Worth in Flower Mound, Texas. A seasoned poet and well-respected in the equine field, Czerw’s new book has been endorsed by X.J. Kennedy, a prominent poet in National Letters, as well as Louise Serio, one of the top professional riders and trainers on the National Horse Show Circuit. She is also the author of The Story of Pilot Star: The First Few Weeks, a simple tale told by a Thoroughbred colt, illustrated with photographs.
She holds a B.A. in English from Mount Holyoke College and an M.A. in Teaching from Brown University. For more information, visit Itty & Bitty on the web at www.ittyandbitty.com.