When a young boy named Matix turned three years old, he received a gift that would delight just about anyone: two miniature horses.
They were a gift from his grandmother, Frankie Eklund, who has loved horses all her life.
“When I was a kid, my dad threw me up on a horse and said ‘ride,’” Frankie says. “That’s how it got started.”
When she’s not working at The Woodmark at Sun City, where she has been Activities Director since it opened 15 years ago, Frankie can often be found competing in Gymkhanas—four-event horse-riding competitions—around Phoenix. Residents of The Woodmark at Sun City often go to cheer her on.
Because Matix was born with TAR syndrome (thrombocytopenia with absent radius), he won’t be able to ride horses like his grandma. The rare disease has left him with underdeveloped arms, poor balance in his legs, and a low platelet count in his blood. Frankie gave Matix his miniature horses because she hopes that one of them will be able to support her grandson as a service animal as Matix gets older and more independent. Service horses can help with opening doors and providing stability, and once service horses turn three they can even pull their owners in carts.
Bert and Ernie are still only two years and one year old, respectively. As Frankie has been training the miniature horses to be certified therapy and service animals, she has introduced them to the residents of The Woodmark at Sun City.
The results, Frankie says, have ranged from heartwarming to miraculous.
One resident, who claims to love animals more than humans, enjoys wrapping her arms around Bert and Ernie’s heads for extended hugs. Frankie says that another woman, who had been refusing her medication, was soon taking it again after a visit from Bert. And Bert recently charmed a man who hadn’t spoken or even smiled in two months.
“When I walked up to him with Bert, he said, ‘Oh my gosh,’ in a whisper,” Frankie recalls. “And he smiled the whole time. I actually had to pick up his hand—because he didn’t have control—to pet Bert’s head.”
She chose Bert and Ernie out of a group of about 22 miniature horses from a nearby farm. “They had very soft eyes,” she says.
Frankie plans to train them to pull active, healthy residents around on carts when they turn three years old. In the nearer term, she expects to have them certified as therapy animals. And down the road, you may see either Bert or Ernie chauffeuring Matix to The Woodmark at Sun City to visit his grandmother.
[Featured photo: Bill Turner visits with Bert outside in the courtyard of The Woodmark at Sun City.]