BOISE, Idaho — 18 months into the pandemic, we could all use some cheering up.
That's the goal of the local non-profit Mini Joys, taking miniature horses around the Treasure Valley to meet with children and seniors.
Mini Joys founder Laurie Bell started the non-profit nine years ago, visiting special needs classrooms, foster homes, children's hospitals, and senior homes. Groups can also visit the Mini Joys farm near Hidden Springs.
We got to tag along as Laurie and a team of volunteers brought mini horses, Levi and Sophie, to The Terraces of Boise.
That's where we met Barbara Davidson.
"We don't usually have horses in the lobby!" Davidson said. "You know, they're charming little beasts."
It brought back memories for Davidson who grew up around horses. She says her mother loved animals, particularly horses.
"I didn't ride many horses," Davidson said. "I was always too short to get the saddle on! I needed a mini horse then!"
"People who used to have horses just take that sniff of a horse, even if it's just 28 inches tall, and all the memories flood back," Bell said.
Even around strangers, the animals are impressively patient and gentle, brightening the day of everyone they come across.
Plus, there's just something about seeing a miniature horse wearing shoes that just makes you happy.
"Our smallest one weighs 100 pounds soaking wet!" Bell said. "His Build-a-Bear shoes are too big for him."
The shoes definitely score some style points, but Bell said it's the animals' personalities that really make an impact.
"Horses are really intuitive," Bell said. "We have a sassy donkey at home who's just kind of ornery really! But I'll always ask, 'Is there someone who really wants a challenge?' and boy, the toughest kid steps forward. We give them Hope, the donkey, and pretty soon they're like this [fingers crossed]; best buds. Like, she gets it. You're strong-willed, I'm strong-willed, you know what, we can do this together!"
Bell started Mini Joys nine years ago, combining her passion of helping people with her love of horses.
"I think I came out of the womb and said, 'mommy, daddy, horsey!'" Bell joked.
Pre-pandemic, Laurie and her pint-sized pals would tour special needs classrooms and pediatric hospitals meeting with Treasure Valley children diagnosed with terminal illnesses.
"There are times where I just go, 'I would do this all over again if it was just Amy, or just Claire, or just Kanyon."
There's no doubt, none of this would happen without Laurie, but if you ask her, it's the dozens of volunteers who help out who are the real heroes. Some, she met years ago during visits to St. Luke's Children's.
"We all have some hard things, but coming alongside a family during the hardest time of their life, then having them come back and want to give through volunteering and be a part of somebody else's journey has been really humbling, and really rewarding," Bell said.
You can learn more about Mini Joys here.