A unique set of best friends, Cutest Pet duo Sirius and Mercury are owned by Debbie Garcia-Bengochea, who is education director and founder at Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses along with her husband, Jorge. The charity is located in High Springs, Florida, and travels across the country each year to visit tens of thousands of adults and children who have experienced traumatic events. Sirius (a dog) and Mercury (a mini-horse) prove that friendship knows no bounds.
Q What is Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses? How/when did Sirius and Mercury become a part of the family?
A Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses, an award winning, all-volunteer charity, is celebrating 20 years of service. The teams of therapy horses work with over 25,000 adults and children each year inside children’s and veterans’ hospitals, hospice programs, literacy programs and with families who have experienced traumatic events. Located in Florida, the horses travel around the country.
The tiny horses have been called in to help survivors and first responders immediately after the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut; the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina; the Pulse nightclub in Orlando; the tornado survivors of Moore, Oklahoma; child trafficking victims in Washington, D.C.; children in Syrian refugee camps in Greece; fire victims in Gatlinburg, Tennessee; and Hurricane Irma survivors.
Mercury was born on the farm at Gentle Carousel. He is the brother of therapy horse Magic, one of the best-known therapy animals in the world. Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses are protected on the farm by livestock guardian dogs Vigil and Guardenia. They are Maremma sheepdogs, a livestock guardian breed from Italy. The Maremmas wear GPS collars, so after seeing how many miles Vigil and Guardenia travel every day with the horses, it was decided to start training a second team of Maremmas to help support them. That is how Sirius arrived on the farm.
Q How did Sirius and Mercury’s friendship begin?
A The first time they met, Mercury was only a day old. He walked right over to Sirius, touched his nose and the two of them just stared at each other. Sirius and Mercury became instant friends.
Q How would you describe each of their personalities?
A Mercury and Sirius were named by our social media friends who sent in thousands of great name ideas. Unlike his two very active sisters, Sentrina and Willa, who also live on the farm, Sirius has always been mellow and serious (the reason for his name: serious Sirius). He watches everything carefully, is very calm and seems like a wise old soul.
Mercury is fearless and loves to be center of attention. He wants to check out everything, and if the farmhouse door is open, he is quick to walk inside. He is very independent, and though most foals stay near their moms, he is quick to run off and explore. Fortunately, his mother is very trusting of people, the Maremmas and her life on the farm.
Q Can you take us through an average day for Sirius and Mercury?
A When the horses are not working they are in lifelong herds on many acres. Horses are one of the most social creatures and we think that socialization is critical to their well-being and happiness. All horses by nature are also designed to move continuously. The therapy horses move and eat small amounts of grass, forage all day long, and live with multiple horses to feel safe and secure. They work no more than two days a week unless they are traveling.
Mercury started his training to become a future therapy horse from the first day he was born. He has never known a time that people have not been part of his life and walked right over for attention as soon as he was born.
Mercury and Sirius are both learning new skills every day and, like any babies, they have short attention spans. They both are already doing great with house training.
They spend a lot of time just being friends together, sleeping and walking around the farm. Sirius patiently watches when Mercury chases and plays with his big ball or runs in circles around him. When Mercury travels for a hospital training visit with his mother, Sirius waits on the farmhouse porch for him to return.
Q Do any memories of the two (whether together, separately or both) stand out to you?
A The therapy horses of Gentle Carousel go through about a two-year basic training program and after that are always learning new skills. Working indoors would be a challenge for any horse, but they make it look easy — even in high rise hospital buildings. They learn to walk up and down steps, ride in elevators, walk on unusual floor surfaces, carefully move around hospital and television studio equipment, work in small patient rooms and stay calm around unexpected sounds like ambulances, alarms and hospital helicopters... and yes, they need to be house trained.
Mercury has started making very short training visits with his mom as a chaperone. He will eventually work with medical professionals in oncology units, the ICU, and with occupational, speech and physical therapists as part of the treatment for patients who have suffered strokes, traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, amputations and burns.
On his very first training visit, Mercury was confident and walked right up to patients. It takes a special horse to be both safe and happy in a hospital situation. You might be able to teach certain skills, but all great therapy animals need to have a natural desire and personality that cannot be taught. It was exciting to see that Mercury has that kind of personality.
When Mercury visited his first library there were so many people waiting to see him, even families who had traveled from other states. He touched many of the children on the nose just like he does with Sirius. It was a short visit because he is just a baby, but the children saw a video about his life with Sirius. They teach a great lesson together: just because we are different, doesn't mean we can’t be friends. We just have to care about each other.