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Public Safety Surprises Students with Mini Horse Therapists for Finals

12/11/2018

Nothing takes the pressure of finals off like petting a pony. Or, in the case of many surprised and eager SLU students, petting or posing for a selfie with a miniature horse named Winnie, Jasper or Bailey.

Winnie, a miniature therapy horse, shares the love with a SLU student. Winnie, a miniature therapy horse, shares the love with a SLU student.

Thanks to the efforts of members of the Department of Public Safety, and help from the Department of Campus Recreation at Saint Louis University, students got a little equine therapy to help them through semester’s end through surprise visits from representatives from Heartland Mini Hoofs, a therapy organization that saddles up miniature horses to help those in need.

"I think this is the best thing that's ever happened to me," freshman Molly Dippel said.

The horses visited SLU on Tuesday, Dec. 11, popping up at the Simon Recreation Center, Pius XII Memorial Library, Busch Student Center, and on sites on the southern end of SLU’s campus. Their visit was covered in stories that appeared on KSDK-TV Ch. 5 and online in U.S. News and World Report, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and other media outlets.

Cries of “DPS is the best!” and “Look at the little horses!” rang out as Winnie, Bailey and Jasper made their way around SLU’s campus. Students gaped, stopped in their tracks, or came running for love and selfies while DPS officers took on the roles of horse wranglers and iPhone photographers.

The visits were part of a larger program, “De-Stress with DPS,” that public safety officers have spearheaded for years in order to build positive bonds with students. Mike Otten, security manager for Chaifetz Arena, one of the visits’ organizers, noted that helping students cope during stressful times goes hand-in-hand with his mission to serve and protect them.

“I am a firm believer in reducing the stigma surrounding mental health,” Otten said. “In my interactions with our students, as well as my own college age children, I have learned of the pressure and anxieties faced by the students, especially at this time of year. The Saint Louis University Department of Public Safety believes our role is much more than taking care of the physical well-being of our students. Caring for the whole person, including their mental health, is crucial to the development of these young men and women that we serve.”

After researching ways to help young people cope with stress and anxiety, Otten discovered Heartland Mini Hoofs. The group is based in Taylorville, Illinois, and is dedicated to “bringing happiness, healing, rehabilitation and comfort to others,” by utilizing miniature horses as therapy animals. Jasper, Bailey and Winnie have worked with a variety of people, from children to seniors. They basked in Billiken attention on Tuesday, posing for selfies and attempting to steal kisses and bagels from adoring student fans.

The Saint Louis University Department of Public Safety believes our role is much more than taking care of the physical well-being of our students. Caring for the whole person, including their mental health, is crucial to the development of these young men and women that we serve."

Mike Otten, manager of security for Chaifetz Arena

DPS worked closely with SLU’s Campus Recreation and Wellness division to bring the horses to SLU. The program was a natural partnership, Jodi Seals, assistant director of health education and promotion explained.

“We believe in impacting the whole person, so giving students a chance to do something therapeutic during such a stressful time can really improve their mental health and help them do better on their final exams,” Seals said.

Both DPS and Campus Recreation have worked to lessen students’ stress loads.

Campus Recreation recently hosted a holiday-themed Pottery Painting Party that allowed students to work out their pre-final jitters by creating a keepsake ornament. The department oversees SLU’s Simon Recreation Center and offers a host of fitness and wellness classes, from intramural sports to yoga. Campus Recreation also hosts a De-Stress Fest with peer educators and Billikens After Dark.

DPS regularly hosts its “De-Stress with DPS” events, which include karaoke nights with public safety officers and coffee and cocoa pop-ups. DPS also gets involved with SLU’s popular Miracle Network Dance Marathon, dancing and distributing stuffed animals to kids. The department has been active in supporting the Special Olympics, even plunging into frigid waters to raise funds for the cause.

“I encourage my officers to find ways for DPS to interact with our students in positive and nurturing ways,” Chief Jim Moran, assistant vice president and director of public safety, said. “If our officers have more personal relationships where the officers and students get to know each other more deeply, then the community feels more trust in the ability of our team to fulfill its mission of keeping the community safe.”


Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers nearly 13,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.

Story and photos by Amelia Flood, University Marketing and Communications