RACINE — “You’re so pretty,” Oak Ridge Nursing Home resident Dorothy Estberg cooed when Whisper, a miniature horse, came up to her wheelchair.
As Estberg stroked Whisper’s white and brown paint coat, she said Whisper reminded her of the horses her family kept when she was growing up, though Whisper is quite a bit smaller at 29 inches tall.
Other residents began poking their heads out of their rooms, lining up to have their turn with the horse.
“Everybody’s got to see her,” Activity Director Jeanine Hying said. “This has been the talk ever since I put the calendar up.”
Led by owner Alyssa Kohls, 20, of Caledonia, a volunteer through Creature Comforts, Whisper made her second visit to the Oak Ridge Nursing Home, 1400 8th Ave., Union Grove, on Thursday.
Whisper — 3 years old, 161 pounds and fully grown — has been making rounds at Racine County nursing homes since March, though she is not yet certified as an official therapy horse.
Barb Hugier, director of Creature Comforts, hopes to change that before the end of the summer. “We would like her to become Racine’s first therapy mini-horse,” she said.
With such a status, “it makes her sound that much better,” Kohls said. “It makes people feel that much better about her coming.”
Most residents are quite pleased with her visits now — chasing her down the hallway and even following her into other residents’ rooms. One woman abandoned her walker to go to the horse’s side.
Perhaps the one thing that delighted residents more than the horse herself was the fact that she was wearing shoes — from Build-A-Bear Workshop.
Whisper sports hoofwear for practical reasons: On the tile floors, “she would slide if I didn’t have shoes on her,” Kohls said.
Whisper has quite a collection of hoofwear, more than five pairs of shoes, including black Converse and Hello Kitty tennis shoes.
On Thursday, Whisper was sporting new patriotic tennis shoes to match a blanket that Hugier made her.
Despite her rather feminine attire, residents almost always ask if she is a boy or girl. Another popular question: Has she had any babies? She has not.
Kohls has been riding horses since she was 7, and she has wanted a miniature horse since before she can remember. One year ago, Kohls rescued Whisper from a household that was hoarding more than 80 miniatures without feeding them, she said.
Whisper is house-trained, a process that was incredibly easy, according to Kohls. She only had one accident in the house before she learned to stand by the door when she needed to be let outside. “She’s very, very smart,” Kohls said.
Once Kohls and Whisper got to know one another, Kohls started looking for ways to volunteer with her.
In addition to nursing homes in Racine County, Kohls takes Whisper to visit the mentally disabled in Neenah, her hometown.
“She has such a good personality, it would just be a waste if I didn’t do it,” Kohls said.