OWATONNA, Minn. — Betty Schultz smiles as Tank the quarter horse steps up to the window at Benedictine Living Community — Owatonna.
"I love it," says Schultz, of the visit by Tank, one of the horses from Mowry's Lazy Meadows that make occasional trips to the eldercare community in rural Minnesota. "Just the feeling of closeness and things like that, it makes you happy."
Berneice Cobb enjoys seeing Tank, too, although she's glad to be separated by a pane of glass. "That's as close as I want to get," says Cobb as she sits in her wheelchair in a row of several residents while Tank swings his tail and presses his nose to
Tank and his owner, Monte Mowry, have been regular visitors since May 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was raging and the Benedictine facility, like eldercare sites across the nation, had halted in-person visits.
Mowry remembers that his proposal to drop by with some of his seven equine companions was hesitantly accepted. "They said, 'We'll try it once,'" Mowry recalls while leading Tank from window to window this spring.
"This is probably my 13th, 14th time out here," he says as residents and staff peering from the windows tap on the glass and wave at every stop.
'A huge blessing'
Lisa Kern, the facility's administrator, admits to being a bit perplexed at first by Mowry's offer. "I just thought it was unbelievable. It's so humbling when somebody calls you and they're offering
their gifts to you and they're thinking of us," Kern recalls. "That's what I was probably baffled at."
Nowadays, she agrees with Nikki Anderson, a wellness assistant, that the horse visits have "turned out to be a huge blessing." Gentle Tank is particularly popular. He leans into the pets and hugs he gets now that COVID restrictions have mostly ended and
people can come outside to greet him.
Mowry saved Tank from the slaughterhouse in 2005 when the horse was 11. He calls Tank his personal psychologist, crediting the horse with pulling him through a personal rough patch. He said he hopes being around his horses is similarly uplifting for others.
"I just want to give back," Mowry says. "About 12 years ago I was going through a time of my life with depression and stuff like that. I finally kicked myself in the butt and got help and then I thought, you know what? Maybe I could turn around and help
other people, too."
Source of comfort
Casey Bakewell, activities director, often accompanies Mowry and his horses as they make their rounds on their Benedictine visits. She speculates that because many of the residents grew up on farms
around Owatonna with horses, seeing the animals takes them back to the days of their youth. "I think that people just find it very comforting," Bakewell says.
Horses aren't the only animals the facility welcomes for visits. Therapy dogs make regular stops and once a year the facility hosts a "farm-to-town" event on the parking lot with goats, cows, kittens and other feathered or four-legged guests. The
dairy princesses crowned at local festivals come to that event and serve root beer floats.
Mowry doesn't limit his horse therapy to residents of the Benedictine community. Since 2015, he and his wife, Nancy, have opened their farm to various groups that serve special populations. Among the groups that visit are Big Brothers Big Sisters
of Southern Minnesota and Operation: 23 to Zero, which is focused on curbing suicides among those who have served in the military.
Earlier this year Benedictine honored Mowry with its Horizon Award for his volunteer work. His efforts were also honored by LeadingAge Minnesota, a community of aging services providers.
Mowry is among about two dozen volunteers who share their time and talents with Benedictine residents in Owatonna. Kern says the impact of their contributions can't be overstated.
"We only have so much time in a day," she notes. "The individual gifts of our different volunteers, like Monte and others, enhance what we do here every day."
Before he began his horse visits, Mowry says he had no connection to the eldercare community, other than seeing it as he drove past. "Well, I didn't," he says. "But I do now."