Toril Simon, a volunteer with Victory Gallop, guides Willie out of the trailer to make his debut.
Willie the pony made many lasting memories during his first official visit to Akron Children’s Hospital, greeting patients bedside on Tuesday.
Willie Nelson, a therapy pony handled by Victory Gallop in Bath Township, gets around town. Since his arrival to Bath Township in October, he’s been spotted shopping at several local pet stores. And you may have seen him visiting with residents in area nursing homes.
Sue Miller and Kim Gustely, co-directors of Victory Gallop, have been busy socializing this well-behaved pony since he arrived at the farm. He hangs out in Miller’s home while she works in her office, and he’s fond of the many children who volunteer and participate in Victory Gallop’s therapeutic riding programs at the farm.
“We are really impressed with Willie,” said Miller. “He’s done everything we’ve asked. He got in the elevator very well. … He was great about putting his nose up on the children’s beds. I was looking at height and I thought he was perfect to have his head there.”
The delighted patients were glad to have his head height right where they could pat his nose without having to get out of bed to enjoy the visit. Willie made about a dozen bedside visits to hospitalized patients, handing out a “mini me” stuffed animal version of himself to all. It was clear his presence in the unit delighted everyone, staff included.
Wendy Sawyer, volunteer recruiter, made a special effort to get out to see Willie on Tuesday. She’s a big fan of Willie’s predecessor, Petie the Pony, who visited hospitalized children at Akron Children’s for the past 20 years, right up to his death in September.
“Seeing Willie is bittersweet,” said Sawyer. “He’s so sweet and cute, but I can’t forget Petie and all he’s done for us at Akron Children’s.”
For patient Kara Haynes, Willie’s visit gave her a reason to smile, something her mother, Susan, said Kara hadn’t done much of since her admission to the hospital last week.
Miller said it is of the highest importance to Victory Gallop to continue to provide this experience to kids when they need a smile the most. She was very pleased with his debut performance.
“He was friendly with all the kids,” said Miller. “He’s really been pretty phenomenal. I am going to give him an A+ for the day.”