Jim Woods stands patiently in front of the Ronald McDonald House of Dallas holding a hot pink leash. This is his favorite place to spend an evening because he knows that on the other end of that leash is pure joy for the families of sick kids. Hope, a three-and-a-half year old mini horse, nuzzles into the side of Jim’s leg, then stomps around a bit, showing off her new boots. She’s ready to get to work.
Jim, along with his wife Linda, operate Mini Hooves of Love, a nonprofit therapy horse organization that is on a mission to enhance people’s lives through interaction with miniature horses. They own five minis: Faith, Hero, Hope, Monarch, and their newest little one, Valor. Each therapy horse is a Registered Therapy Animal Team with Pet Partners, except for Valor, who is still in training. Visiting places like Ronald McDonald House in Dallas and Fort Worth, as well as Cooks Children’s Hospital and Texas Scottish Rite Hospital, Jim and Linda are making a difference and having a wonderful time. “Some days I’m having a bad day and I don’t want to muck out the stalls,” Jim admits. “But then I can’t imagine doing anything else. They are so much therapy, even just for us.”
Mini Hooves of Love is supported mostly by individual donors who are passionate about therapy animals, but the organization also receives in-kind donations of forage (a specialized horse feed) from Triple Crown Feed and accessories like Easy Care rubber boots that provide some traction on slippery indoor floors. A handful of trained volunteers help care for the mini horses, but it is mainly Jim and Linda who have dedicated their lives to this important cause.
Their journey as horse owners came a bit out of the blue. In 2006, Linda, a medical assistant and office manager, decided she wanted to get a horse for their property north of Melissa, Texas. Jim, a retired Registered Nurse, decided if Linda was going to get a horse, he should probably get one too. The couple ended up purchasing three young quarter horses, but as the horses got bigger, Linda became uncomfortable caring for them. “One evening Linda was cleaning out the stall and her horse pinned her up against the wall,” Jim shared. “After that she didn’t want to work with large horses.”
Monarch – 32” and 275 lbs
Hope – 23” and 90 lbs
Faith – 26” and 100 lbs
Hero – 24” and 80 lbs
Valor – 24” and 75 lbs
In 2008, Jim and Linda went to a mini horse show and decided to sell their quarter horses and buy three mini horses instead. The Woods imagined they would breed and show their minis, and did so for several years, but the show life became stressful and not the fun experience Jim and Linda envisioned. In 2011, they received a call from a family with a baby diagnosed with Trisomy 18 who was at home in hospice care. They asked if one of the mini horses could come visit their daughter and so their baby could smell and touch a horse before she passed. After that visit, Jim and Linda realized how much joy came from therapy animals and switched gears from horse shows to therapy training.
Now the Mini Hooves of Love certified horses travel all around Dallas-Fort Worth bringing smiles to sick kids and their families. Jim makes daytime visits, loading one horse in their specially outfitted van, and Linda will join him for bigger events, often using vacation days at her full time job to get the horses clean and ready. “Since they are complex-rated therapy horses, we have a specific bathing routine that happens in the 24-hours before our visit,” Linda explained. Some locations allow the horses to come inside, while others only allow outdoor visits, but no matter where they plan to go, the Woods continue to train their mini horses beyond certification standards.
Mini Hooves of Love has also recently partnered a new program called Just Say WHOA to Bullying, which teaches bullying prevention using animal-assisted activities with miniature therapy horses. The program is set up to help children to recognize and respect the differences in one another. Founded in St. Petersburg, Florida, Jim and Linda are working to bring the program to North Texas.
After years of visiting children all over the metroplex, Jim and Linda are used to seeing familiar faces. “We love coming back and seeing people who have experienced our horses before,” said Linda. “We might not recognize them, but they always recognize us.” Children and parents alike get in line to visit with Hope, who offers a quick nuzzle and patiently allows even the littlest children to pet her mane and face. Jim helps each one pose for a photo, while Linda connects with the family. Then Linda hands each child a small stuffed horse and a card with Hope’s face on it to remember the meeting. A day’s worth of stress melts away, and everyone leaves with a smile, including Jim and Linda.
If you are interested in learning more about Mini Hooves of Love or supporting their work, you can visit their website or follow them on social media for more of photos of their mini horse family!
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Story by Mary Martin. Photos by Hunter Lacey.