an older woman petting a horse
A resident of The Fountains at Millbrook enjoys visiting with one of Kelly Lattin’s horses.

A chance meeting has meant that the residents at The Fountains at Millbrook, a Watermark Retirement independent and assisted living community in Millbrook, NY, have some new friends — horses.

Millbrook is a quiet town, located about 90 miles north of New York City in the Hudson Valley. It is also a haven for horse riders, as resident Kelly Lattin can attest. A veteran, Lattin runs her own stable of horses and hosts riding camps in the area. A chance encounter with a relative of a former camper led to a relationship that has her bringing her horses to the senior living community.

“When I first signed up for it, I basically volunteered my time and my horses to come up,” said Lattin, who has been involved with horses since she was a teenager.

“I knew there was magic. But it didn’t know exactly what it was,” she said. “So I did a lot of research, I tended to equine therapy programs, specifically for veterans. I was removed from the workforce, so I still wanted to give back to the community. And this seems to be the calling to do it.”

Since the summer, Lattin has been bringing horses to The Fountains for monthly visits with the residents. More specifically, she brings her two miniature horses, Baku and Bug. Because they were smaller than the community’s therapy dog, it was easy to get them clearance. Needless to say, the program has been a big hit. Being in a horse-loving community, The Fountains and Lattin have been a match made in heaven. 

“I actually had a staff member a few years ago that worked here at the assisted living [community] who went to school to go pursue equine therapy and then moved on to other things, but it’s something we’ve always wished we could do.” The Fountains Community Life Director Lisa Rieckermann said. “There was one woman who was struggling and she came out. She said that it was the best medicine for her, that it was the best day of her life.”

Although the visits are inspired by equine therapy, they don’t adhere to those guidelines. Rather, the visits are loosely structured and have no more than eight people per session, to avoid scaring the horses. This arrangement also gives residents a chance to form a closer connection with the animals, many of them being former riders themselves. 

“Because of what I’ve learned and my research background, I always believed that the best therapy is run by the client. So the residents really interact as questions of watching the [horses] grow. They have questions about what they’ve been doing and how they are doing with different things,” Lattin said. “They’ve noticed the curiosity that has increased as the minis age. Because their stature is so different and their temperament is different, there’s a much more calmness. And it’s a huge comfort.”

Lattin said she plans to keep taking Baku and Bug to The Fountains for as long as she can and has no plans to slow down any time soon. She not only provides visits for Fountains residents but also for fellow disabled veterans like herself. She doesn’t have to do much self-promotion — the right people always seem to find her … and her horses, of course. 

“I am just a person volunteering my time and my animals to those who need it. We just have to see what we pick up. I don’t seek it out,” Lattin said. “I believe in word of mouth. And timing. And good karma.

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