It doesn’t matter what he’s wearing, from fedora to boots, or naked, when 8-year-old Baxter and his handler Brian Hohstadt strut into a room they are surrounded like a pair of celebrities.
“I always joke that it takes me 20 minutes to go what should take me two,” laughed Hohstadt.
A lot of hospitals have pet therapy programs centered around dogs or even cats, but Baxter is a registered therapy horse who makes his rounds at Saint Alphonsus hospital in Boise.
“It’s very unique. It’s very different, but we get just a phenomenal reaction to the horses,” said Hohstadt.
When Hohstadt got Baxter when the horse was three, he was completely wild. In just 14 months of training her got a perfect score on his pet therapy evaluation which allows him to go into places like Saint Alphonsus to give patients a few minutes to forget whatever they are going through.
“I think almost everybody has some kind of connection with an animal,” said Hohstadt. “It just gives them a few minutes just to kind of disconnect and visit with an animal,” said Hohstadt.
Hohstadt said he has seen the result of how powerful pet therapy can be first hand, so he tries to make the three hour one way journey from La Grande to Saint Alphonsus every other Friday, but it’s not just the patients who are transfixed by the 125 pound 26 inch miniature gelding.
“I have had surgeons follow me down hallways taking video,” said hohstadt. “I get mobbed everywhere we go. We have crowds following us down the hallways. I can’t get anywhere fast. The second I arrive the volunteer office starts getting phone calls saying they know the horse is here and can he come to this floor, this unit, this department.”
Hohstadt said he retired from his job early with the hopes of still being able to do pet therapy. He does it mostly with his own funds and last year alone he made 300 visits to different organizations around the region. It’s long days especially trying to get out of a building with Baxter when people are chasing him down but Hohstadt said it’s all worth it.
“The feedback we get and the response we see is just phenomenal,” said Hohstadt.