It’s been a long time since horses were seen in downtown Sapulpa, outside of special events like parades. And yet, on Wednesday afternoon, Carol Hotubbee was leading Rosebud, a pint-sized chestnut paint pony down the sidewalks of East Dewey Avenue.
The seven-year-old (28 in human years) Rosebud is a special therapy horse that visits anyone who “may need an extra, supportive lift with a nurturing nuzzle of joy.” She visits nursing homes, sick relatives, or anyone who may benefit from the comfort of an adorable little creature.
While visiting with a group of children, Hotubbee explained that although they’re lovable and cute, miniature ponies like Rosebud are not like the large dogs that people often incline them to be. They prefer quiet environments where they can get close and comfort others, not loud experiences, like birthday parties.
Rosebud herself is not shy with all the little hands caressing her back, but would occasionally perk her ears up at a loud car driving by, or look to Hotubbee to make sure nothing abnormal is going on. “She’ll turn to look at a motorcycle driving by, but then she’s going to trust that I’m not going to let anything happen to her,” she says.
According to Hotubbee, these horses came from an even smaller breed that was around during the dinosaur era, where they learned a fierce herd mentality as a matter of survival. From there, they grew to the regular-sized horses we have today, but there have remained miniature horses and ponies for centuries, often serving in hard labor positions like “pit ponies,” where they replaced children for working in coal mines.
Rosebud, thankfully, doesn’t live that sort of life, but Hotubbee says that her ingrained instincts for herding and her own confidence that she is the alpha animal at her home barn fascinate even her owners. “She will lead the other horses to eat. None of them can eat until she says it’s okay,” she says. “I’ve watched her rear up on a stallion to show him, ‘this is my place, I am the alpha here.’”
In her day-to-day life, Rosebud visits nursing homes and sick or elderly people in order to bring them comfort in what might be a painful time for them. Hotubbee says she’s learned a few skills that surprise even her. “She has a different way of ‘kissing’ you when you’re blind. She’s gotten so intuitive about it, she can pick up whether a person is blind or not before I can,” she said.
Hottubbee says that Rosebud’s job can be just as important as physical therapy. “Emotional healing leads to physical well-being,” she says. Hotubbee’s own experiences as a child are what led her to start Peaceful Ponies, the non-profit organization that employs Rosebud and other ponies for therapeutic uses. When she was in second grade, she found herself caring for her bedridden mother, who was fully quadriplegic by the time Carol was in middle school. She eventually moved to Santa Fe, where she discovered the joy of horseback riding. She spent many days traversing the trails of New Mexico with her horse, Joseph. “He was my best friend,” she said. “Metaphorically, he lifted me five feet closer to God, connecting me to my own humanity; I found a level of peace I’d never experienced before, nor since.”
Though she worked in the business world for years, Carol eventually returned to Sapulpa with her husband Carl and traded in her briefcase for rubber barn boots, and “lots of fly spray!”
Peaceful Ponies is now a full-fledged organization with more miniature horses visiting hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted-living facilities to promote a healthy emotional lifestyle. Hottubbee says that Rosebud has gotten so good at her job that she knows even when someone is about to pass away. “She will splay her legs out in a stance, and she won’t want to leave that room, because she knows she’s supposed to be there to comfort them,” she says.
These “miniature in stature, but mighty in spirit” horses are funded by private donations, and available throughout the year for therapy. If you’re interested in donating, scheduling a visit, or learning more, visit peacefulponies.org