Horses make special visit to Fahrney-Keedy during pandemic

As the region struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, the staff at Fahrney-Keedy Senior Living Community has been doing what it can to bring enjoyment to residents there.

But residents have had to cope with the fact that visitation has been cut to the facility due to the new coronavirus and the center can't offer group activities.

Then, the center received a telephone call one day.

It was from Hagerstown resident Erin Hershey, who offered to bring two of her family's horses to the senior community to help lift spirits.

The leader of the center agreed, making for a memorable experience Wednesday for the residents and Hershey's family.

Hershey said the seeds for her idea were planted when her 14-year-old daughter, London, received an email from the boarding school she attends in Middleburg, Va., about service to the community.

Hershey then started hearing from equestrian groups about how people were taking horses to nursing homes in Kentucky and Tennessee to spread some joy during the pandemic.

Hershey said she called Steve Coetzee, the leader of Fahrney-Keedy, about bringing her horses to the center. She said Coetzee thought it was a "wonderful" idea.

So Wednesday, Hershey and her daughter loaded up their Tennessee walkers named Silver and Charlie for a ride to Fahrney-Keedy.

Hershey and her daughter took their horses around the grounds of the campus. At times, Silver and Charlie walked up to windows to see residents inside, and the residents reached out to the animals if they were touching them.

"It was pretty emotional," Hershey said Sunday.

Some residents were able to come outside, where Hershey and her daughter gave a talk about horses and what they do with Silver and Charlie. 

Many Fahrney-Keedy residents were farmers, and it triggered memories for them, said Shannon Kelbaugh, director of activities at the facility.

She called the experience "amazing."

"It seems like a little thing, but with everything going on, it really lifted some spirits," she said.

Hershey said it also helped her because her family has been in a "COVID funk." She said the stables where her family keeps their horses are closed and they have been missing rides with them.

Kelbaugh said there have been no cases of coronavirus at Fahrney-Keedy, which serves about 165 people. The facility includes skilled nursing, assisted living, a memory-care unit and an independent living area.

People have kept a watchful eye over nursing homes during the pandemic, particularly since older people are more at risk of contracting the disease.

Tennessee walking horses originally were bred for utility work on farms and plantations in central Tennessee in the late 1800s, Hershey said.

Today, they demonstrate their versatility as great show, trail, and pleasure horses. They are known for their smooth, easy gaits and their docile temperament, Hershey said.

Hershey said Silver and Charlie are especially calm horses and have a knack for "knowing what needs to happen." 

Article courtesy of The Herald Mail, written by Dave McHillion; photo submitted.