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Students Take Mini Break to Horse Around

Beloved miniature horses return after four-year hiatus to de-stress Montclair students

Posted in: Homepage News, University

student kneeling next to brown mini horse and petting its mane
All of the horseplay was about providing students with some stress relief.

Friends Meghan Redfern and Aniella Martin waited almost an hour for their turn to meet, pet and pose for photos with the ever-popular Alexander the Great and Ravi, two miniature horses brought to the Montclair State University campus to help students de-stress on Monday, April 10.

“It was worth it!” the two sophomore Psychology majors said in unison afterward.

They were among more than 200 students who checked in and waited for their turn at a meet-and-greet with the equine pair on the Student Center patio. Mini horses have not been on campus since before the pandemic, when Hope’s Promise farm brought them to Montclair during finals week in December 2019, said Marie Cascarano, assistant director of Health Promotion, which co-sponsored the event with Commuter Life.

“The turnout was actually bigger than we expected. It’s really great,” said John Han, a Health Promotion specialist who had the task of letting students know it was last-call for selfies, as he ushered in another group of students for some horseplay.

“It was so much fun,” said Martin, adding that “the horses were making some funny faces.”

Three students gather around a miniature horse as a long line of students wait in the background.
Students pet sneaker-clad Alexander the Great as dozens of other students wait their turn in line in the background.

Faith-Laray Johnson and friend Ruqiya Sabry also didn’t mind standing in line for their turn. “It was definitely worth it, even for a couple of minutes. It was for the experience,” said Johnson, a sophomore majoring in Business.

Unfortunately, the friends ran out of time for horse selfies. “But it was a really good experience,” Sabry said. “A 10 out of 10,” added Johnson.

Amy Day, a junior majoring in Education, burst into laughter as Ravi, a 5-year-old miniature horse whose name means “sun” in Sanskrit, nuzzled against her hair. Her friend Sofia Idrissi captured a photo of the moment. “I came because I miss my dog,” said Idrissi, whose cavalier-poodle mix Toby is at her home in Jersey City.

Roommates Jack O’Dell, Kyle Faulkner and Nick Batista, all juniors, said they especially liked Ravi’s shoe style. “The shoes are awesome!” said O’Dell, a Product Design major, who pulled out his phone for a close-up photo of Alexander’s black, orange and gray sneakers. Ravi wore four black high-top boots.

Two students pet a brown miniature horse.
Roommates Nick Batista, left, and Jack O’Dell pet Alexander the Great, a 6-year-old miniature horse.

Shirool Hamid, who waited with friend Joanelle James for about 25 minutes to meet Alexander and Ravi, agreed wholeheartedly. “The shoes were my favorite!” she gushed.

As it turns out, the horse shoes are manufactured for a different (non-living) species altogether: “I order their shoes from Build-a-Bear,” said Hope’s Promise Director Maureen Coultas.

While the shoes are admittedly fashionable, they do serve a purpose, Coultas explained to students: “It’s just for cuteness, but when they’re inside, we don’t want them to slip on tile and wood floors.”

Cascarano said Health Promotion staff want students to de-stress as often as possible, so that this year they decided to bring the horses in before finals week, while therapy dogs will be on campus for finals. “We decided to be more intentional and spread it out. The more opportunities we talk with students, the better.”

Hamid and James said they both came to curb their stress. “I have so much on my shoulders,” said Hamid, a sophomore Medical Humanities major. “With the semester coming to an end, it’s crunch time, definitely,” James chimed in.

“I was able to get some knowledge on horses,” James said, adding that Alexander stood only two feet tall.

A student smiles at the camera as they pet a brown miniature horse.
Joanelle James, a sophomore Marine Biology major, had a great time petting Alexander the Great, who was sporting sneakers.

Hope’s Promise board member and volunteer horse handler Cris Gronke explained that miniature horses stand no taller than 38 inches at the shoulder (their height is measured in inches and not hands as all other horse breeds are measured).

Gronke also educated students on proper horse etiquette. “No, no, no. You don’t want to be behind a horse,” she softly warned one student. “They can kick.”

“Don’t touch his mouth or his nose,” she told another.

Dawn Soufleris and mini horse pose for a selfie.
Even Vice President for Student Development and Campus Life Dawn Meza Soufleris got a selfie.

Coultas explained that it’s natural for a horse to kick its hind legs if startled. As for not touching the duo’s nose and mouth, she said, “they’re not like dogs, their noses are very sensitive. Also, they’re very nibbly, so it’s just a safety precaution. They use their top lips like we use our fingers – to feel stuff.”

At one point, there was an added bonus: A visit by Montclair’s popular puppy mascot or ‘pupscot’ Pebbles and mascot Rocky. “It was my first time meeting Pebbles,” Redfern said excitedly.

Student chants of “Pebbles! Pebbles! Pebbles!” announced the appearance of Montclair’s pupscot. Director of Student Communications Cindy Meneghin brought Pebbles to the equine break for a photo session with the mini horses. The pup was less interested in Alexander and Ravi than they were in her but they did meet nose-to-nose.

“I needed a dog fix today,” said Jacqueline Gallego, a senior majoring in Business, applauding Montclair’s decision to acquire a pupscot: “Oh my god, this was the best decision ever!”

When informed that Pebbles has her own Instagram account, Gallego’s friend Sydney Bragg, a senior majoring in Biology, immediately pulled out her phone for a follow. “I didn’t know she had an Instagram! Look at Pebbles! Yay, Pebbles!”

Gallego was already among Pebbles’ more than 1,700 followers. “I’ve been following her since her first post.”

A student wearing glasses takes a selfie with a miniature horse, as a friend snaps a photo of them.
There was no shortage of selfies and photos as students took turns petting a boot-clad Ravi.

Under the tent nearby, the miniature horses, which are used for equine-assisted therapy to help people of all ages reduce stress and anxiety, as well as assist with social and emotional learning, were unfazed by all of the attention. They especially enjoyed the petting and scratching from their admirers. The minis are shedding their winter coats, so many students left with lots of horse hair on their clothing, which they didn’t seem to mind. They also left with beaming smiles. Even the student, who rubbed her hands together and turned to her friends as they made their way off the patio: “OK, can we go wash our hands now?”

Photo Gallery

A miniature horse and a student both smile for the camera.
student posing for selfie with brown mini horse
group of students smiling petting light brown horse
student holding horse
cones on campus outlining area for mini horses

Story by Staff Writer Sylvia A. Martinez. Photos by University Photographer Mike Peters