Horses And Humans Together Create Big Ripples
Posted by Kerri Lake on Aug 13, 2020
Absent of judgment, never requiring you to be different than you are, they offer connection and awareness for its own sake. As humans, we have the ability to recognize and share this connection with one another, reminding each other how it feels to be connected, with an open heart.
Michelle Wagner-Yeatts knows that feeling well! Her “volunteer heart” was inspired and nourished by her mother who was always looking for more ways to help those around her. So, she is already tuned to notice situations where she might be able to step in and make a difference.
Michelle’s professional background includes years and years of administration in nursing homes and other care facilities, and through that work, she developed a huge passion for seniors! When she saw a post float across her FB feed sharing the story of a man in who was bringing his horse to visit seniors through their care home windows, the light bulb went off for Michelle, too! “I can do that!” She knew instantly that she and Sonny, her very special “heart horse” would pick a day and start visiting local homes. Of course she recruited a few of her friends, both human and equine, to join the “window walk” visits. Soon they had a crew of four people and their differently-colored horses walking into town, calm as can be, just to share beauty and connection with those who are still being protected from potential health issues by lockdown-quarantine orders.
What touches my heart most deeply about Michelle and her action to bring horses to humans is the connection that’s possible. In the interview, you’ll hear Michelle talk about the obvious connection between the horses and the people. So many people love horses, or used to have horses, or dogs or other animals, and bringing the animals to them reminds them of how it felt when they were with their animals every day. Life and love flow through their bodies again, charged by an inescapable joy that takes over the room.
For humanity to create a new world together, we must begin to consider the perspective that humanity is included in of the harmony of life - not the keeper of life. When we include ourselves in the harmony that already exists, we can experience a profound and deep sense of connection with all species. It’s already present within us, evidenced by the joy we experience in the presence of animals or the vicarious joy we feel when we see others light up.
In an evolution of consciousness, we have the opportunity to recognize that the animal kingdom is still a poignant partner to humanity. Animals have been, and continue to be, food, sport, work, companionship, material for other products, and inspiration. Today though, more than ever as humanity continues to awaken, animals are guides for us to remember how it feels to open our hearts, guides to see one another without judgment for a very interactive, interspecies life where everybody wins. Ultimately, this is the goal and the movement of nature - there is always a greater harmony at work that wishes nothing less that a flourishing life for all. This same wish is alive and well in our hearts.
Michelle has taken action to bring that sense of inspired life and flourishing connection to people whose hearts are wide open to receive it. Their brilliant faces and effusive joy are rippling out to the world as we continue to open our hearts, to receive the connection for ourselves and continue to share with inspiration.
I’m so grateful that Michelle, and her sister Jo who brought Michelle’s window walks to our attention, is out there, doing her thing!
Below is a transcript of our conversation.
Kerri Lake: Okay… Well, this is beautiful, and I feel so happy and blessed to be here with you. My name’s Kerri Lake, and today I’m here having a conversation with Michelle Wagner-Yeatts. Michelle has been doing some amazingly beautiful, generous things with her ponies, bringing her friends and their horses to visit people through the windows of nursing homes an assisted living facilities!
Michelle, hi! Thank you so much for being here! Thank you for playing, thank you for sharing the love!
Michelle Wagner-Yeatts: Hi! Thank you!
Kerri Lake: It’s so wonderful. My heart is so…you and I have already talked about this… my heart is all about horses and the way animals and the animal kingdom is, just by their very beingness, in service to open human hearts. You don’t have to tell animals to be “in service.” You don’t have to tell animals, “Do this because it’s a ‘good’ thing.” It’s just naturally what they’re about.
Michelle Wagner-Yeatts: I agree.
Kerri Lake: Yeah… it’s what my heart is completely about, recognizing all the millions of different ways that animals can open human hearts.
Will you please share a little bit about how you started taking Sonny, your beautiful horse, to go and visit people through the windows at care homes?
Michelle Wagner-Yeatts: Absolutely! I was scrolling through Facebook one day, and a friend of mine had posted, I think the picture was from Illinois, a picture of this cowboy, and his horse. He was leaning into a nursing home window.
And I thought, I can do this! Sonny and I can do this!
KL: (excited) “I have a horse! I have a horse!” Okay…so, had you and Sonny done anything like that before?
MWY: No! Sonny and I had a rich history of trail riding and things like that. My pathway had left the healthcare world and gone into the photography world. There was really no time to ride or do things with the horses. And all of a sudden, I’m in a different capacity in my work world and I’m able to ride again.
Sonny and I have never done that particular “window walk”, parade type thing at nursing homes before, but I had done pet visits with a dog, back in my past. I remembered the love that that had brought. So with Sonny, since we can’t get inside and people can’t get close, I thought, well they can see him through the window!
KL: It’s quite a thing to have a horse show up outside your window, too!
KL: I would turn into a six year old myself! I mean, I get to play with horses all the time, and a horse shows up outside my window, I’m like, “Look! It’s a pony!!”
MWY: The staff members have fun with this as well.
KL: That’s so fantastic. Amazing. How did you know that Sonny would be okay with it? I mean, when you were out riding, did you guys ever ride into town? Because it’s different than trail riding.
MWY: No, he’s just kind of one of those special horses in your life. He is that special boy. No matter what I ask him to do, he’s pretty okay with it. I think there’s a trust factor between him and I that if I ask him to do it, he knows it’s not going to hurt him. And so he’s just very willing to do anything I ask him to do. He’s been a natural at it.
KL: For people that don’t have experience with horses, it might seem like a really scary thing to bring this huge animal into town where there’s cars and sounds, and y’know, what if Sonny gets scared? Tell me about your experience. How do you know he trusts you? What does that feel like?
MWY: Well, let me tell you what that feels like. I think it was the second event I took him on was a parade, in a small town outside of the Bryan/College Station in Texas called Caldwell. The nursing home was Coppers Hollow. They had some of their residents sitting outside, of course they were socially distanced.
I knew there was going to be a lot of people and a lot of noise, and I wasn’t sure how he was going to react. I was going to get in before the fire trucks. So I got him in line and was moving on through, and they let the fire trucks in right behind him! And the fire trucks of course have to be exciting, so they are tooting their horns, and I’m like, oh my goodness, if he’s going to go berzerk, it’s going to happen right now! And he didn’t! We just kind of backed off a little bit, let the fire trucks go on through. He was fine, but if he wasn’t going to react to a fire truck, he was going to be pretty good with everything else.
KL: You also went and did window walks with a few of your human friends and their ponies. What was that like for you, asking your friends to come along?
MWY: That was really neat, because everyone has that different relationship with their own horse. All the horses were different colors. I think we had a ghost paint which was almost white, we had Sonny which was a big sorrel, we had a gorgeous bay, and then we had another beautiful paint, a red and white paint.
The different colors of horses I thought would be fun, so that was all coordinated. Two of the horses that came, the lady who posted the picture was friends with them, and the ghost paint and I have been riding together for years. So we just kind of mixed. It was lovely. And I have a cousin with a paint that comes from Brennan, Texas, which is the home of Bluebell ice cream, if you’ve ever heard of that!
KL: Ooo! I haven’t, but it sounds delicious! Okay, I’ll have some!
MWY: So, she’ll drive over and go to places with me as well. Which was fun.
KL: It’s so wonderful. I mean, it’s different than going inside and actually getting to touch hands with people or bringing animals inside. How did you find the connection? Was it easy for people to connect with the horses through the window? Was it easy for you?
MWY: It was easy for me because my background of course is health care, and I was in and out of all of the skilled nursing communities and assisted living communities all the time. So I have a very deep, personal connection to the people. It doesn’t matter who it is in these communities. I would walk in the front doors, the first thing I would do is hug every single person as I went by, and then squat down beside them and ask if they’re having an okay day, and how’re you doing? And just have a conversation with them.
Of course, now we can’t do that. It’s very different in the windows. So there’s a lot of things that I say to them in the windows. One of the things that I tell them is that Sonny wanted to come see them, that we wanted to tell them that we loved them, and that we hope they’re have an amazing and beautiful day.
That’s kind of window-to-window conversation. There’s a lot of other conversation that we get into too, like so many people have had horses of their own. They’re remembering their names, and they’re talking about what color they were, and if they rode them or if they just pet them through a fence.
I think that’s really important, because I think that sometimes when someone is in a community like this, we almost forget that they’re human. That they had a past. That they had a beautiful life. I wonder where I’m going to be like that, and I hope that someone remembers that I loved horses. For them to bring these memories out, I think is really important.
There was one really spectacular moment I used to have with my Bentley dog. It was at an Alzheimers care community. We would go in, and there was a lady who was completely non-verbal. Bentley would get on the couch between us and lay down. She would bend over and speak to Bentley. The nursing home had never heard her speak!
What we found out from her family was that she used to train dogs. But there’s the history! There’s the connection. Animals don’t judge. People talk to them. They have no limits in their love.
KL: It’s the presence. And when people have the opportunity to feel that connection again, their bodies feel that energy of love moving through as they talk about what color their horse was. Whether they’re connecting with a person or an animal, they’re feeling their life moving through their body again!
MWY: Amen to that! Yes…
KL: The animals don’t have a consciousness that would judge. They don’t evaluate who you are or how you show up. They just simply show up and sit next to you and say, “Well, here I am, and there YOU are!”
KL: Even as humans, the part of us that doesn’t judge feels activated by love. It’s so absolutely wonderful.
MWY: I agree.
KL: There’s like, 800,000 things we could talk about… So, do you notice the horses responding to the people through the windows?
MWY: Yes! You can tell - I’ve got a picture of Sonny’s eye. And it is dead-focused on a gentleman on the other side of the window. And he had been talking to [Sonny]. But there’s this eye contact between the two of them that is pretty magical. I don’t really know if horses know they’re doing that much magic, but [Sonny] was certainly listening to what this man had to say. [Sonny] was really focused on him. I think animals do know when someone is a kind spirit. I think they can feel that, maybe even better than humans can.
KL: Whether or not science would say that it is proven, to me it’s empirically evident to anyone who is willing to stand next to an animal and actually experience an animal.
MWY: I agree.
KL: For people who are not compromised in some way, for people who are not elderly or have been through some sort of traumatic event, even for people who are “healthy,” you take “healthy” people and ask them to feel what moves through them when they’re among the animals, it really is an experience unlike anything. You can let yourself be touched at such a deep level. To me, that’s what’s common among all of us as humans, and also common between humans and other species. It’s that place of connection.
KL: This is, to me, what’s so valuable about sharing the presence of animals with humanity in many different ways.
KL: It really does let people remember what it feels like to not be alone. And to not be judged. And to be among other life with nothing to prove!
MWY: And safe. I think people feel safe. When they experience that connection, there’s a safety there. There’s a connection, yes, but they also feel safe with them.
KL: And maybe they can feel safe with themselves, like, what “safe” actually feels like, whether it’s safe next to a dog or a horse, or if it’s just safe sitting still, because they can feel it a little bit more now. Does that make sense?
MWY: Yep! Sure does…
KL: I have in our notes from our conversation earlier, “Bentley has no judgment. It’s all about the love, the ability to connect with one another.”
KL: Would you talk about the years you spent in hospice work as well, what it’s like being with people at that last adventure of transition? Is that in any way like bringing animals to visit people who are moving toward death? Is hospice in any way like being an animal showing up to visit people?
MWY: I’m not exactly sure of the question that you’re asking me, but I will tell you that animals have this ability to understand people’s last days and last moments. When I was in hospice, there was story after story after story of pets being turned loose in a nursing home who would be drawn toward someone’s last day. They would either sleep on their feet, or in their room, or just get as close as they can to them. I think they know and they can feel even better than we can.
But as far as being in the hospice world, what a gift! What an absolute gift. People have varying reactions to the word “hospice.” Truthfully, hospice is a glorified home-health situation. You know, you have the ability to be the last hand that someone touches. It’s the closest you could ever be to heaven. That’s my beliefs, I don’t know what anybody else’s are. How much closer to God can you get but to touch someone’s hands as they’re slipping away? I think that is a beautiful situation.
It’s sad too, because we don’t want them to go, but hospice is a gift. Hospice is love and friendship. It’s a continuum of care for people that meets all of their needs, as far as a chaplain standpoint to a counseling standpoint, counseling for families, comfort and friendship, or respite for family members. And then, of course all the medical care that goes with that.
KL: I totally agree! I was never deeply involved in the whole hospice system. I did some volunteer work with people, sitting with people who were very close to their transition. Man…it is so rich and it is so beautiful.
The reason why I asked the question is that my experience sitting with people when they are close to death, there’s no reason or need or desire to judge anything! You’re simply the presence of love sitting next to another who is moving more purely every moment into the presence of love.
KL: In that way, to me, when I was the one sitting and holding the hand, or holding the knees up so the body wouldn’t be wrenched as the knees fall over in bed, or whatever level of kindness I could possibly share…
KL: …it felt, to me, so close to what it is to be an animal with no judgment.
KL: Just sitting, and sharing love for the sake of love, while life is happening, even though it seems like life is ending.
KL: Life is just continuing to happen, and this is what it looks like. This is, in my experience, what animals offer humanity all the time, the absence of judgment, the absence of desire for you to be anything other than you are.
KL: I brought the question up because, to me, it’s really a beautiful thing to remind people that we have that capacity in us all the time. That is what’s common among us, the capacity to be without judgment for one another. I love bringing the questions forward, because I love hearing people articulate it differently from their experience, y’know?
KL: I know you have a lot of support to continue doing the window walks. You’re going to keep doing them, right?
MWY: Oh, yes! Absolutely yes! When we first started it, I don’t think anyone in the group knew the reactions that we were going to have at the windows, and the emotional catch it was going to give us. We were all sobbing at the first window because of the joy on the other side. It was their reactions that told us we were doing something good.
To make someone feel that happy, it’s almost like a guilty pleasure, feeling that good! I got to go to “work” today, but it was so much fun! Was it really work? Well, yeah, but it wasn’t really work! I get paid to do this, so it’s okay! How can you be that happy at work? It was awesome.
The emotion that we felt on the outside paled in comparison to the emotion that they were feeling on the inside.
When we first did pictures, at the first window walk we went to, we did them all from the outside. The second window walk we did, one of the staff members started taking pictures from the inside, and she posted them to me. It was that point where I could actually see the reaches, see the faces, see the cupped hands around their faces in happiness! The residents trying to kiss the windows and pet the horses through the windows! I mean, those were the pictures where it all hit home! And it was a feeling like, “Oh, my gosh…how beautiful is that?”
That’s when it became less about what’s going on outside the windows and more about the inside in how I was thinking about what we were doing. I almost don’t know how to explain it. Do you know what I’m saying?
KL: Yeah, like your perspective broadened...
MWY: It was a total difference…
KL: Yeah, like at first you were feeling from your own point of view, next to the horse, outside the building, but those photos let you also feel from the inside.
MWY: Yes. Absolutely.
KL: Well, and especially for you! You’ve already got so much experience being inside, among the people, right? So you’d already have that experience to draw from and have the experience be that much richer. To combine that joy with what you already know it’s like to be inside. And that’s got to be just life-changing!
MWY: It was amazing. Every time it’s different, but every time it’s amazing. We do huge nursing homes where we hit probably 30 windows. All of them feel the joy, but there’s always just one or two that I go home in the car or the truck, talking about with whoever’s with me. It’s like, “Oh, my gosh…did you see her?” And “Yes…!”
There was one that we did at Peach Creek Assisted Living. She had had a stroke and was pretty non-verbal. But her reactions to Sonny were of complete joy and completely verbal - you just had to understand what she was saying! And you could…
What she was saying was completely communicated to us. Her arm would go out as she reached toward the window. Then she’d draw it back and she’d say, “Ohhh…!” And she’d reach out reach out again and pull her arm back and go, “Oohhhh…!!” And it was a-maze-ing! That was the one I took home with me this week. She was just precious.
KL: (laughter and smiles) Amazing… Do you find the horses get tired?
KL: Do they let you know, “Okay, I’ve had enough…”? This might seem like a lot.
MWY: No, [Sonny] doesn’t get tired, actually, he gets better! I think when we first get there, he’s excited. Like, this last one we went to on Tuesday, we had a pasture of goats next to us, and Sonny doesn’t really know what goats are. So in all the pictures where he’s got his ears up, looking at the camera, he’s actually looking at the goats! They’re all doing their little “baaaa” thing in the pasture! I had to get off the porch with [Sonny] and walk probably 75 yards to this pasture and I think he floated half way there, looking at these goats. I was waiting for him to bolt actually, because he was looking so hard at the goats. But once he got up there, he just relaxed and started eating grass like, “We’re okay now.” So I knew we were okay to go back to the porch and visit with the people.
Each place we go now offers its own new experience for him, but he’s so laid back once he knows what he’s looking at. He is awesome.
He’s just awesome. He likes to dip his head down below that middle bar of the window so that people can see a full view of him. He wears a little hat, and he has a little mask… I mean, he’s just cute. He’s just super-cute.
KL: It’s so beautiful. Y’know? Animals have such a capacity to understand what we’re doing. Especially when what we’re doing is about connection, they’re just right there, like “this actually makes sense, you guys! I’m right here with you.”
KL: It is absolutely remarkable to partner with them.
MWY: I think I told you about Bentley, when I used to take him inside the nursing homes. He would ride in the back seat of the car, and he would know when we were on property of a community. He would start his exciting whining, wanting to get out of the car right now! When it was safe, I would let him go, and he would run across the parking lot, find the first wheelchair, sit down next to it and wait for that first hand to reach down to pet him. He loved it!
It’s kind of harder to tell with horses, but I think with dogs, there’s such a huge reaction to that love. He totally connected with it! Totally.
KL: I love what you were saying about the woman who’d had the stroke, and how verbally she’s just saying “OOhhhh…” to communicate her excitement. But you can feel what she’s communicating - you don’t need the words to articulate it. It’s in the tone of her voice, it’s in the carriage, it’s in the energy around her.
MWY: I think it’s dependent too on what they’re capable of, and what the nursing home staff knows that they’re capable of. Like, there was another woman who never smiles, but she was smiling on Tuesday [when we were there with the horses].
KL: I always draw parallels between humans and animals. Feeling that beautiful woman’s excitement, feeling the joy, it’s that feeling that’s the real communication.
KL: And when we’re listening to animals, whether it’s a dog or a horse, or even a fish, when we’re tuned in to recognize the feels that come through, that’s when we can really know that the horses are enjoying themselves, or when they say, “Yes, let’s keep going.” Horses don’t always have the same freedom as a dog to go running across the parking lot and plop themselves down next to a wheelchair.
MWY: (laughing) That’s be a good trick though!
KL: It’d be like, “Hey, Sonny’s just doin’ his thing! We can’t get in his way!”
But it’s all in the feels. That’s where real communication happens. And again, this is part of why I’m so happy and feel so blessed to be bringing this conversation to more people, just to hope they wonder, “Huh… I wonder what it’s like to really connect.” If it takes connecting with an animal first, let’s do it, just for the experience of it. It’s so amazing.
Are there any other particular stories that you love that you would like to share?
MWY: Every one is a unique, particular experience. There was a lady who couldn’t get close enough to the window. She kept trying to reach and trying to reach and trying to reach. The staff are so kind in these nursing homes and assisted livings, and they want to help the residents enjoy this experience as much as they can. I asked one of the staff if they could help put her in a wheelchair and meet me at one of the glass doors, would that be something that we could do? And they said, “Oh, YES!” They jumped right on that!
The picture that’s my profile picture on my Facebook page right now, that was that lady. You can just see her hand reaching for Sonny’s face and him dropping his head so low so she could get close to him.
We were talking about horses, and whether there is that moment where you can tell they’re enjoying themselves. Horses, if they didn’t want to do this, they wouldn’t walk through bushes and under overhangs to get close to a window. So, I think that may be his willingness, showing me his willingness. And he does that over and over and over again.
KL: And his understanding of what’s really going on, why he’s there in the first place.
MWY: Right, I agree.
KL: It’s so beautiful. Wow. Michelle, thank you for everything that you’re doing! Do you have more plans to continue doing more window walks? What do you have planned?
MWY: I try to get at least one or two window walks in a month, in-between work schedules and things like that. That’s about all I can do, unless someone calls and needs something else.
I had someone call and ask for a birthday visit. The woman’s sister was at a nursing home, and she loves horses. What I didn’t know at the time was that she was one of my high-school classmates! So the connection there was pretty beautiful, too. I’m in a hometown situation, and running into high-school friends - that was another story!
I had a high-school classmate whose dad was in one of the communities. We were able to get to a window for him.
I have people messaging me all the time. In fact, at Peach Creek, I had a guy whose one of the real estate agents I do photography for. He said, “You see the lady in pink in this picture? That’s my grandmother!” And that to me is special too, because I connected something beautiful and amazing for someone else who loves a person we got to visit. KL:
The ripple is immeasurable, isn’t it.
MWY: I agree with that too. It just goes on and on.
KL: It goes on and on, and people are touched every time someone tells the story. Every time someone even thinks about it and smiles and their heart opens! And then someone else asks, “Why are you smiling?” And they get to tell the story all over again.
KL: And hearts open, and the ripple keeps happening, and it’s so absolutely beautiful.
MWY: The love. The absolute love. Yes. And I wish I could hug every one of them! I want to hug them all!
It’s been the hardest for me, with the hugs, with having to stay away from people and socially distance, and all that. I’m a hugger! I feel like part of my soul is missing.
KL: Touch matters. We’re made to touch each other.
MWY: Exactly! Which is why they’re touching this horse through the window!
I think touch spurs memories. Like, the lady who would touch Bentley, who had trained dogs in the past. It brought back all those memories for her, even though [the dogs] have been gone for so long. Touch is huge.
KL: It brings life back into our experience and into our bodies. I’m completely with you - it’s 100% about the love. Like, how many ways can we invoke the feeling of love, just for its own sake, y’know?
KL: I so appreciate your passion for the seniors in particular. I know it comes from the experience you’ve had working in those environments and getting to know people who are walking through that stage of their life. It’s such a beautiful thing to share, so thank you for that.
MWY: Absolutely! You’re welcome! Love…! Love, love love!
KL: (laughing) Wait, let’s make that point one more time…! Love, love, love! And ripple!
KL: So, the last couple of things that I want to ask you in our conversation today are, is there anything else, aside from the love, love, love, is there anything in particular that you would like to say or share while we’re here?
And then the other part that I want to ask is, what can ServiceSpace offer to support you? What can this community do to support what you’re doing and help ripple out the love?
MWY: I think what you’re doing is perfect. People, I think, well not all people, but a lot of times we run short on ideas of what we can do. The guy in Illinois, being parked outside the window with a horse was spur enough for me. I was like, “I can do that!”
I challenge people to think outside the box. It doesn’t have to be big. It could be little love. It could be holding a door open for someone. It could be a smile for someone. Y’know, people aren’t touching anymore, but I think people don’t even make eye-contact with each other anymore. So, I think there’s a lot in the eyes behind the mask that say, “Howdy, I hope you have a great day!”
I challenge people to reach out to people who are isolated and help those staff members that are doing their best to take care of your loved-ones in communities. Just get out there! And love, love love! Love on everybody!
KL: (laughing) Love, and acknowledgement, and thank yous…and letting yourself be loved too. I think it’s a beautiful thing that your local news station did the story on you, and thank you for saying yes to doing this! In order to make that ripple of love, often what it takes is we have to receive the love so that the connection can happen. We have to say, “Yes, I’m happy to share even more, I’m happy to talk about this. And I’m happy to not hide my love! I’m happy to not hide my heart on this!”
I think you saying yes to receiving the attention and the love is actually a gift to the rest of us as well. Listening to you and how you’re organized as a person, having that volunteer heart, that heart to share, you’re already a huge part of the ServiceSpace Community. This is what the community is about. So, thank you, very much, for showing up here and sharing yourself with all of us as well.
MWY: Thank you for including me. My sister was the one who submitted the story in the first place. I thank her, too.
KL: Yes! Thank you Jo for submitting the story and getting the whole show started!
MWY: Yeah, she’s really a sweetheart.
KL: Michelle, thank you for everything that you’re doing. Thank you for loving the ponies and all of the animals, and for sharing that beautiful heart of yours.
You’ve gotta give Sonny a big hug and kisses on his nose for me.
MWY: I will do that, and I’ll send you the picture!