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The Miniature Therapy Horses of Greece

miniature therapy horse Greece
One of the enchanting miniature therapy horses at Magic Garden in Rafina. Credit: Facebook/Magic Garden

There are just 27 adorable miniature therapy horses in the entire world; six of them are in Greece, just off a quiet road in Rafina, on the eastern coast of the Attica region.

Magic Garden is a place that has become synonymous with enchanting horses. A rare breed of micro-mini horses calls Magic Garden their home. These unique creatures offer emotional therapy to adults and children in need of both inspiration and hope.

From Bucephalus, the famous and well-loved horse of Alexander the Great, to Pegasus, the divine winged stallion of Greek mythology, horses have played an important role in Greek history and culture. Today these creatures are not just beasts of burden but very special companion animals,  who by their very presence, uplift people who have experienced medical or emotional trauma.

“The horse is a majestic creature. It has the ability to elevate one’s soul, improving the human condition. Any time someone is near a horse they are better for it,” according to George Frangogiannis, a Greek show jumping champion. “Gentle Carousel Greece has the opportunity to introduce this powerful equine spirit to thousands of children and adults in Greece. I believe this is a noble mission.”

miniature therapy horses Rafina
One of 6 miniature therapy horses in Greece. Credit: Facebook/Gentle Carousel Greece

Magic Garden was founded as a place to provide fun, relaxation and tranquility for young and old in the countryside near Rafina. The non-profit charity Gentle Carousel Greece is an extension of Gentle Carousel, operating out of Ocala, Florida. Gentle Carousel Greece eventually evolved from the US based umbrella organization, Gentle Carousel USA.

Gentle Carousel Greece is a community service of therapy and healing provided by these rare miniature horses. According to Mina Karagianni, the heart and soul behind Magic Garden, “The team of Gentle Carousel offers something very important and essential: strength of soul, motivation, effort, companionship, hope and unique moments of priceless joy.”

Abandoned Miniature Horse Wins Over Founder

Karagianni has had a variety of professional interests across her career, none of which had to do with horses. In 2012 she found herself face to face with a neglected miniature horse in a vacant lot in the Athens suburb of Kalithea. Moved to action by the charming creature, she located the owner, purchased the micro-mini equine and transported the animal to her family estate in Rafina.

Karagiani’s original intent was to hand the miniature horse on to an animal welfare organization so it could be looked after and helped to heal and eventually thrive. Instead, as she searched the internet, she found the Gentle Carousel organization in the US.

Gentle Carousel is one of the largest equine therapy programs in the world. Teams of tiny horses visit thousands of adults and children each year inside hospitals and hospice programs, and also interact with families, veterans and first responders who have experienced traumatic events.

The charity is now celebrating almost 25 years of service.

The horses work with medical professionals in oncology units, intensive care units and with occupational, speech and physical therapists as well. As part of treatment teams, the horses support patients who have suffered strokes, traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries, amputations and burns.

miniature therapy horses Greece
Gentle Carousel Greece founder Mina Karagianni introduces a pediatric oncology patient to the magic of miniature horses. Credit: Facebook/Gentle Carousel Greece

Karagianni was instantly enchanted with the work the non-profit was doing with their miniature therapy horses. She asked if she could purchase some of the beautiful horses but the request was given a flat out refusal. She did not give up. She invited the volunteers to come and visit Greece and see what she could offer in terms of a facility for the miniatures to be housed, as well as discuss how the enchanting creatures could serve as therapy horses.

The organization’s volunteers made the journey from Ocala and were readily convinced of Karagianni’s good intentions and her ability to follow through on the work. She and her volunteers were trained on how to offer services and how to set up the facility and make the almost magical creatures accessible to the community.

Gentle Carousel Greece’s miniature therapy horses belong to a rare breed of equines skilled in interacting with children and vulnerable groups of people in hospitals and other institutions across Greece, and providing them with psychological support. The miniature horses have visited more than 11,000 people since 2014. The US based non-profit visits more than 50,000 adult and pediatric patients annually.

From the first visit with the miniature therapy horses, children and adults begin to forget their pain. The magical nature of the miniature horses distracts patients for just a while from their traumatic experiences and they gain strength to face the days ahead.

Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses

Six of the 27 miniature therapy horses from Gentle Carousel USA arrived in Greece in 2013. Volunteers from the US-based non-profit worked with volunteers in Greece to visit patients, both young and old, in hospitals, orphanages, nursing homes, institutions for the protection of children with traumatic experiences, accident recovery centers or people with mobility problems, cancer patients and others in need.

The miniature horses have served many people through their sweetness, patience and kindness. They are trained by specialists in psychotherapy and education to help those who have lost hope, and are tired of trying, to find the courage to continue to overcome the difficulties that fate had in store for them. The miniature horses inspire individuals to find new meaning and value in life.

Events at the Magic Garden are an essential source of support for Gentle Carousel Greece as the financial support sustains the therapy horses so they can provide visits to patients in need without cost.

The miniature therapy horses come in direct contact with the patients, and with their tender presence motivate them to sit up and get out of bed, to gain courage and to smile again. The team of Gentle Carousel Greece provides strength to the fragile soul, as well as motivation, companionship and simply invaluable moments of joy.

Magic Garden also provides educational programs on its premises for school age children from kindergarten through grade six. Children have the opportunity to get acquainted in the classroom or in the venue’s space, seeing the miniature therapy horses in action, providing psychological support to those who will benefit from it.

They learn the history of the ancient breed, studying their anatomy as well as having physical contact with the miniature horses. Program participants are also sensitized to the importance of protecting stray animals.

Magic Garden is keenly aware of the physiology of the rare miniature horse breed and what is required for its care and protection. Through the educational programs at Magic Garden, children discover the age-old place of the horse in human society, how it has been utilized during the course of human history, and its valuable contribution in the present day.

But Magic Garden does not only come to the aid of human patients in need of tender loving care. It has also rescued miniature horses.

The story of Giselle, the tiny orphaned horse that was rescued and adopted by  Magic Garden, is the inspiration for an original educational program that teaches children how to protect and care for abandoned animals. Through Giselle’s visualized story, students learn about the needs of the miniature horse and cultivate empathy. The miniature horse visits classrooms for yet another dose of tender loving care.

The international magazine National Geographic Kids featured Giselle in a special edition focused on the rescue of 125 different creatures across the planet.

On October 4, World Animal Day, Magic Garden celebrated the successful rescue of Giselle. The homeless miniature horse was rescued and is thriving today thanks to good food, good care and getting plenty space in which to run.

Another educational program Magic Garden provides to grade-schoolers is how horses fit in to both history and mythology. Young learners discover the story of Alexander the Great’s horse, the horses of the Sun, and the horses of Achilles. Students create their own book, based on the story that inspired them the most, and dedicate it to the horse that will visit them in the classroom.

Magic Garden is a venue that can not only host events such as birthday parties, christenings, corporate gatherings, and family celebrations, but it also offers the community contact with these extraordinary animals. The program of Magic Carousel Greece hopes to rally public support by providing patients who are confined to hospitals and other medical environments the joy of contact with these sweet and gentle creatures.


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