By Dylan Carter, Jarrid Denman, Kristina Latham, Tricia Small and Katie Paschall
Despite the rain, Mini’s and Friends visited the residents of Southwood Care Center in Austin on Saturday.
A non-profit organization, Mini’s and Friends brings trained miniature horse ambassadors to visit people of all ages with special needs.
“Our mission is to provide an equine experience for those who need their spirits lifted,” Co-founder Sally Iwanski said. “From small children to people in nursing homes, these horses give all kinds of people something to smile about.”
What had originally started as a small operation shared between a few friends, Mini’s and Friends has turned into a well-known 501(c)(3) organization in Austin. In an effort to bring mini horses to people of all ages who may be suffering mentally, physically and emotionally, this is a group filled with caring people who love horses.
“Our mini’s are very little, they stand about thirty inches tall,” Iwanski said. “Even though they are little horses, they have big hearts.”
Every weekend, the volunteers at Mini’s and Friends take nine mini horses and one mini donkey to various locations around the Austin area. Iwanski, 62, says Mini’s and Friends makes appearances at the Buddy Walk, Dell Children’s Medical Center and even at Austin-area public schools. In the future, the organization hopes to branch out and work with Brown Santa and several new assisted living facilities.
Mini’s and Friends is sponsored by more than 35 companies, including Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club and Home Depot. Additionally, many local companies also donate to Mini’s and Friends, including Gnarly Gar, Austin Equine Hospital and Austin City Living.
Growing up around horses, Iwanski said she always knew she wanted to live her life working with them. She says she has seen how therapeutic horses can be and the joy they provide to people who are suffering.
“Both my mother and daughter have suffered from mental illnesses. I have seen the horses work miracles in their lives,” Iwanski said as she wiped a tear from her cheek. “As a matter of fact, when I had cancer, sometimes the most comforting friend was a mini.”
Iwanski’s husband, Gil Iwanski, had never worked with horses, let alone grew up around them. He and Sally run the organization together on the weekends as a hobby.
“Sally has really started an organization that touches a lot of people’s lives,” Gil Iwanski said. “She is really proud and she believes in what she’s doing. I feel lucky to be a part of it.”
Sally calls Gil the “horse-whisperer” of the organization. She says the horses respond to him better than anyone else involved.
“We are continuously growing,” Gil Iwanski, Sally’s husband said. “We have a lot of volunteer applications and a lot of people who want their mini’s to be involved in our organization. It will be interesting where we will go from here.”
The two are constantly working together to grow their non-profit organization with hopes to quit their day jobs to solely focus on Mini’s and Friends. They are seeking to build a barn near South Austin, where people can come to them for therapy during the week.
“We have a lot big dreams when it comes to the Mini’s and Friends organization,” Sally Iwanski said. “And it’s all because of the horses.”
To learn more about Mini’s and Friends, donate or request a visit, go to their website here: http://www.minisandfriends.org/MinisProfiles.aspx