Olive Peirce students take a lesson in animal care and therapy at Hearts and Hooves Ranch

Taylor Patterson, a student at Olive Peirce Middle School, was struggling to clean Millie the Mini-Donkey’s hooves at Heart and Hooves Therapy.

When Millie started kicking her back, Hearts and Hooves founder Melissa Sargent showed Taylor how to scrape dirt for that particular ass.

Sargent told 13-year-old Taylor to wrap his thumb around the back of the hoof and raise the hoof more so it was pointing in a way that didn’t bother Millie as much.

“All animals are different,” Sargent said. “Millie was a survivor from Missouri. The lady I got her from got her at an auction there.

“Sometimes Millie doesn’t mind getting her hooves cleaned and other times she does. It just depends on the day. We’re still working on that.

Taylor was one of four Olive Peirce ASB students who visited Hearts and Hooves Therapy in Ramona on February 24. They were there to learn how to care for the association’s animals, which include mini horses and mini donkeys, full-sized horses, mini goats, a mini pig and chickens, while learning about his therapy program for people of all ages and abilities.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity to help people in our community,” Taylor said of the after-school field trip to Hearts and Hooves Ranch a few blocks from her school.

Students cleaned stalls, groomed animals, then guided them through an obstacle course where animals climbed over logs, navigated a figure-eight pattern around poles, and traversed a stepladder laid flat on the ground.

Rylee Vellone, left, and Sheyanne Critser, eighth grade students of Olive Peirce, go after the stalls.

(Michael Baldauf)

Taylor had some experience with animals – she rode horses for a year and a half.

A classmate who joined her on the outing, Sheyanne Critser, 13, is an experienced farm worker. Having helped raise cows, chickens, ducks, turkeys, sheep, goats and pets at home, Sheyanne said she feels comfortable managing the animals at Hearts and Hooves , but thought she could learn some tips on cleaning horse paddocks.

“I really like animals and I really like working on a farm,” said Sheyanne, who owned a horse but recently sold it because she didn’t ride it enough. “I love having the opportunity to interact with animals.”

Rylee Vellone, 14, said she visited Hearts and Hooves about a year ago with her half-sister, Rylee Wheeler.

“It was fun working with all the animals and Melissa,” she said. “I learned how to groom animals and remove dirt from their hooves. This time I am learning to clean the stables, groom the animals well and take care of them.

Rylee Vellone, Olive Peirce's eighth grade student, guides Chips the mini-horse through an obstacle course.

Rylee Vellone, Olive Peirce’s eighth grade student, guides Chips the mini-horse through an obstacle course.

(Michael Baldauf)

The Hearts and Hooves field trip was coordinated with an Olive Peirce fundraiser to collect donations for the nonprofit.

Sargent said the school held a month-long fundraiser last year to support them. Four students visited the ranch at that time to see what the program was all about, and the school wanted to replicate the activities this year, she said.

“Being involved in the community is a fantastic way to support our local nonprofits,” said Sargent, who led Hearts and Hooves therapy programs for seven years. “It also helps our young people understand the work non-profits are doing in the local community.”

Hearts and Hooves offers animal-assisted therapies and activities to all types of clients, including people with autism, Down syndrome, attention deficit disorder, cerebral palsy, seniors and hospitalized patients.

Depending on the circumstances, clients visit the Hearts and Hooves Ranch or animals visit clients at places such as memory care centers, assisted living centers, aged care facilities and hospitals such as Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, Kaiser Permanente Hospital or Grossmont Hospital.

Sargent said their activities can be as simple as encouraging customers to use their walkers to get to where animals are to pet or kiss them, and as complex as asking customers to visit their ranch to perform walks. housework.

Oatmeal the goat wanders through Hearts and Hooves Therapy while the students help with household chores.

Oatmeal the goat wanders through Hearts and Hooves Therapy while the students help with household chores.

(Michael Baldauf)

Being with animals can also be educational, she said. Some of the children and adults she works with don’t understand the concept of self-care, like showering, brushing their teeth, or cleaning their room. For example, Hearts and Hooves volunteers liken pet grooming to self-care and the responsibility of taking care of themselves.

Seeing the animals can instantly bring smiles to customers and staff, she said. Sometimes animals can also help diffuse situations where patients are screaming or defiant, she added.

“Sometimes it’s just to make them feel good,” Sargent said. “It’s nice to have a new face and something different to do.”

Liam Warren, 13, an eighth grade student of Olive Peirce, said he had two reasons for joining the group: to help his community and to learn about farm animals. Liam has helped raise chickens at home and his family plans to raise three pigs to auction off at the upcoming Ramona Fair. But he doesn’t know much about horses, he says.

“I learned the right way to groom a horse because I had never groomed a horse before,” Liam said.

Olive Peirce's eighth grade student Liam Warren leads Tori the mini-horse.

Olive Peirce’s eighth grade student Liam Warren leads Tori the mini-horse.

(Michael Baldauf)

Sargent said the Hearts and Hooves program is slowly reopening to visitor groups after a temporary halt since last April, when his son Kulten Sargent was killed in a car collision near SeaWorld. Sargent was driving a pickup truck with his passenger Ava Bender when he hit several light poles and traffic lights. Kulten and Ava, both 18, died at the scene.

When Hearts and Hooves is operational, it typically holds 10 offsite visits and 40 to 50 onsite sessions per month, Sargent said.

As a non-profit organization, Hearts and Hooves accepts donations to cover its expenses. In addition to monetary donations of $75 per month to sponsor an animal, she accepts used equipment that she can resell and fresh fruits and vegetables to feed Piper the mini-pig.

Olive Peirce students helped Melissa Sargent, president of Hearts and Hooves Therapy, right.

Olive Peirce students, left to right, Liam Warren, Sheyanne Critser, Rylee Vellone and Taylor Patterson help Hearts and Hooves Therapy President Melissa Sargent, right.

(Michael Baldauf)

Allison Warren, counselor and history teacher at Olive Peirce ASB, said an on-campus donation drive for Hearts and Hooves brought lead ropes, fly spray, horse and animal treats and sensory puzzles for the association’s clients. Donations will be given to representatives of Hearts and Hooves when they next visit the school, she said.

Olive Peirce has been involved in other community outreach efforts this school year, collecting canned goods and toys for Ramona Food & Clothes Closet and raising money for the Ramona VFW after a burglary there.

These activities engage students in real-world skills such as public speaking, communicating clearly with adults, and hosting and organizing events, Warren said.

“As an ASB advisor, I believe it is essential that all students have the opportunity to help their community,” Warren said in an email. “The goal is to build relationships with organizations, businesses and people in our community. Students learn many valuable lessons: compassion, empathy, teamwork and dedication.

More information about Hearts and Hooves Therapy is available online at heartsandhoovestherapy.org and on Facebook at heartandhoovestherapy.

Benjamin M. Yerger