Does Magic the Therapy Horse Really Care About People?

Debbie Garcia-Bengochea, the bestselling author of Mini Horses, Mighty Hope and cofounder of Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses, recently sat down with me for a special episode of the This Animal Life podcast to discuss a burning question: when a specially trained therapy animal comforts a stranger in distress, does the animal understand or even care what it’s doing?

Gentle Carousel‘s miniature horses interact with an estimated 25,000 people all over the country each year, including survivors, first responders, hospital patients, and more. One of their horses, Magic, was named one of history’s ten most heroic animals by Time magazine and declared the Most Heroic Pet in America by AARP. The question I pose to Debbie is this: do therapy horses really care about the strangers they comfort?

To my astonishment, what emerged from this interview was, for me, a most profound insight into the nature of unconditional love between species. Not only is it authentic, it’s more powerful than I ever imagined.

Join Debbie Garcia-Bengochea and me as we get to the bottom of animal hearts. You’ll be comforted, inspired, and amazed.

After we cover their two-year training program, we apply the science of emotional and social intelligence to examples of powerful encounters between therapy horses and people in distress. Join us as we uncover the essence of emotional intelligence, horse’s uncanny ability to read human facial expressions, and the fascinating reasons why horses monitor and influence the emotional states of others.

Debbie Garcia-Bengochea’s book, Mini Horses, Mighty Hope: How a Herd of Miniature Horses Provides Comfort and Healing is an exquisitely poignant book that quickly brings readers to tears of empathy and joy with stories of how the Gentle Carousel Therapy Horses bring comfort, hope, and healing to children, the elderly, first responders, survivors, their families, and others experiencing life’s most difficult challenges.

While the book brings you along on their many interactions with people, this special Christmas episode of This Animal Life, “Does Magic the Therapy Horse Really Care About People?” focuses on what daily life is like for these tiny equines with such heavy jobs to do. Do horses, like people, compassion fatigue? How do you avoid stressing horses, which are prey animals, when taking them to the scenes of mass shootings and natural disasters? Find out all these fascinating facts, poignant stories, and more.

Follow Gentle Carousel on Facebook!
Gentle Carousel is a nonprofit. Make donations here.
Gentle Carousel also runs a children’s literacy program called “Reading is Magic”
Portrait of Debbie Garcia-Bengochea and Magic, by Sarah K. Martin

Badass, Beautiful Wolves and the Dog in Us All This Animal Life

This final episode of This Animal Life is devoted to my fellow wolf-lovers. Sit down for a gripping conversation with Rick McIntyre, author of The Redemption of Wolf 302 in the Yellowstone Wolf series. Do wolves really have a moral code? Are some wolves more ethical than others, or are we humans just projecting? Through Rick's compelling stories, you’ll find out why humans are more similar to wolves than to any other creature. You’ll also learn why anthropomorphism can be accurate and necessary, what our astonishing similarities to wolves teach us about our better nature, and why we’re wise to show mercy in this animal life. Show Notes: “Animals Are Moral Creatures, Argues Scientist,” by Tia Ghose, Live Science, November 2012. Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? By De Waal, Frans. WW Norton, 2016. Dog Behaviour, Evolution, and Cognition, by Miklosi, Adam, Dr.  Oxford University Press 2016. A Dog’s World: Imagining the Lives of Dogs in a World Without Humans, by Jessica Pierce and Marc Bekoff. Princeton University Press, October 2021. The Moral Lives of Animals, by Dale Peterson, Bloomsbury Press, 2011. The Redemption of Wolf 302: From Renegade to Yellowstone Alpha Male, by Rick McIntyre. Greystone Books, October 2021. Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, by Jessica Pierce and Marc Bekoff. University of Chicago Press, 2009.  
  1. Badass, Beautiful Wolves and the Dog in Us All
  2. Does Magic the Therapy Horse Really Care About People?
  3. The Astonishing Truth About Rudolph‘s Nose and More
  4. Pigeons: The Greatest Love You Lost and Never Knew
  5. Why People Love These Wicked, Wanton Flying Monkeys

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