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Miniature horse wearing sneakers helps young and old 'be happy for a little bit'; see photos, video

The Advocate - 7/16/2018

July 15--It's pretty much impossible not to smile at a miniature horse wearing sneakers. That is something Knox inspires on a regular basis. But not the only thing.

Whether it's a children's library program, a visit to a hospice center or dealing individually with autistic children, the 26-month-old mini-horse makes an impression.

"My main goal is to help people in any walk of life who have an issue, to help them find peace ... and be happy for a little bit," said Milissa Davis, who owns Knox. "Even if it's for two hours, that's something I can give them that they don't have."

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Five years ago, Davis, who lives in Watson, sought equine therapy to help her son, Camden, then 8, cope with autism. But big horses terrified him. She tried many times over two years, even rode them herself to show him it was safe, to no avail.

A friend, Deanette McGhee, had miniature horses, and she suggested Camden come over.

"He fell in love," Davis said. "He'd pet them. He'd walk them. He'd just enjoy them. I'd notice when he came home he wasn't as agitated or as stressed."

Davis researched and discovered programs that used minis to assist those with autism and Down syndrome, and she trained at programs in California and Texas on how to handle such horses and use them for therapy. Knox came from a breeder near Dallas, and Davis started Serenity Sensory Healing as a program to let Knox help a variety of people.

Davis began training Knox when he was 10 months old, which included taking him to stores and other public spaces so he could become used to people and noises.

To keep Knox from slipping on hard surfaces, Davis bought sneaker-style shoes from Teddy Mountain, an Australian company that designs such rubber-soled footwear for miniature horses.

"People love to see him walking around in his shoes," she said. "I bring him everywhere, and recently I brought him to Academy (sporting goods), and people were taking pictures."

Knox's purpose, however, isn't to be a subject for amateur paparazzi. Though too small to be ridden -- at 120 pounds and 29 inches at the withers, Knox has reached full size -- he helps a variety of people thanks in no small part to his sheer adorableness.

Davis has private sessions for children with autism at the stable where he stays in Central.

"It gives them a calming effect so they can talk about their problems and how to fix it, and it gives them a sense of peace," Davis said. "He's sitting there just minding his own business enjoying them petting him while they're getting out what problems they have and how they can fix it."

Davis takes Knox to library branches for "Pony Tales" programs where library staff provide crafts and a reading, and Knox is available for children to pet and take photos with him.

In recent months, The Carpenter House hospice center in Baton Rouge has become one of Knox's monthly stops. His impact on patients and staff is obvious, said Elizabeth Smith, volunteer coordinator.

"He's absolutely precious," Smith said. "He's very mild-mannered. When he goes around to the rooms, some of our patients are not very coherent, and he'd go in the room and they liven up. They sit up in the bed and their face lights up. It also triggers memories. They might not remember anything now, and then the horse comes in the room and they start talking about a horse they might have had when they were younger."

Davis said on one of Knox's visits, she had been warned that one patient hadn't wakened in days and was not likely to. But he did and was delighted to see Knox. He thanked his wife for honoring his wish to let him see a horse before he died -- a wish his wife did not recall him expressing.

"I was doing everything not to cry," Davis said. "It was so touching that brought him peace."

Davis bought Knox's younger brother, Kye, and is training him to be a therapy animal. Those who want to visit with the horses can contact her at milissa.davis@yahoo.com.

"My main point in this whole thing is to give people something, whether it's children with autism or senior citizens, a sense of peace, a sense of calming, and give them the happy endorphins," she said. "No matter where I go, whether it's the nursing homes or hospice or with autistic kids, they do so great. It gives the workers a happy joy, and it helps everybody."

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(c)2018 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

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