- College of Medicine Students
Penny isn’t just a pony – the 9-year-old chestnut is the smallest therapist at the College of Medicine’s equine therapy program, where the miniature horse helps children and young adults with special physical and emotional needs.
Penny was a special guest at the College of Medicine’s recent Orientation Fair, helping to introduce the Medicine & Horsemanship Club to incoming first-year M.D. students, faculty and staff.
Through a partnership with the College of Medicine and the McCormick Research Institute, the club’s students volunteer with equine-assisted therapy classes and also conduct research. The program is led by Dr. Mänette Monroe, assistant dean of students, assistant professor of pathology and a lifelong horsewoman.
Penny’s small size allows her to visit children who may be unable to come to her home at a new equestrian therapy center in Osceola County, just minutes from the medical school. Through an aptly named “Pony Express” program, Penny has visited the hospital beds of children at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Nemours Children’s Hospital, and is always a hit among young patients.
Jessica Walsh O’Sullivan, a second-year medical student who chose UCF largely because of the horsemanship program, explained that touching and interacting with animals can provide physical emotional, mental and cognitive benefits for children and young adults. The medical school program provides similar therapies to combat-injured veterans using full-sized horses. And the Medicine and Horsemanship Club has conducted research on how horse therapy helps reduce stress and improve nonverbal communication skills in medical students. Walsh O’Sullivan has experienced the benefits of human-horse interaction firsthand.
“Prior to this interview, I was brushing Penny’s mane because interacting with horses or just touching them is very soothing,” she said. “It slows the heart rate, slows the breathing and got rid of some of the nerves I had. Penny is very relaxing.”
During her orientation visit, Penny hung out on the Tavistock Green, received copious amounts of her favorite snack – carrots – and posed for selfies with students, faculty, staff and even a new four-legged “colleague” – Ion, the College of Medicine therapy dog who works with med students and visits children at Nemours.