SAN DIEGO — A year ago, Faith San Severino and Adam Smith got the idea to launch Instagram and TikTok pages to promote their Bonsall, California, business, Faithful Friends Mini Horses, which trains and sells miniature horses as therapy animals.
Four months after launching their “@faithfulminis” pages, their videos of small horses playing, undergoing training and making therapy visits to local senior care homes were drawing about 600 viewers a day. Then on May 13, San Severino posted her first video of Peabody, a 3-day-old miniature horse with dwarfism that she and Smith rescued from euthanasia at a Texas horse ranch. The fragile colt was weak and underweight, deaf, couldn’t walk on his deformed hooves and was about the size of a housecat.
Suddenly, Faithful Minis video views exploded and the number of page followers eventually ballooned to 1.2 million. People from around the world tuned in daily to follow Peabody as he grew, gained weight, learned to walk on specially designed horseshoes and joyfully clip-clopped around the couple’s home, where he lived full time in the den as their “house horse.” But last fall, Peabody’s liver began to fail and he died on Sept. 14 at just over four months of age.
Yet while Peabody is gone, his legacy lives on. On Jan. 15, San Severino posted an old video of Peabody trotting down the hall and it generated 105 million views. That was on top of the more than 500 million combined views of Peabody’s earlier videos. And within the next month, San Severino said she expects to close a deal with a major publisher on a children’s book about Peabody and his animal friends. But in this version of the story, Peabody won’t die in the end.
San Severino said many of the comments posted on the Peabody videos are from people around the world who said his can-do spirit lifted their spirits while they were dealing with depression and disease. Two followers, including Mexico-based artist Nancy Hache, were so inspired by Peabody that they made paintings of the horse that now hang in the couple’s home.
Although there are hundreds of videos on the @faithfulminis social media pages, Smith said he believes the reason that Peabody’s story resonates the most with followers is that Peabody fought the odds and he had a sweet, innocent and energetic personality.
“He was just as cute on the inside as he was on the outside and he had a very innocent nature,” Smith said. “From the moment Faith picked him up, he was coddled and spoiled and bottle-fed. He owned this house. Even though he didn’t have a long life, he had a good life to the end.”
Peabody isn’t the only miniature horse with dwarfism that Faithful Friends has taken in over the past decade. San Severino said she doesn’t run a rescue and she does not breed horses, but some professional miniature horse breeders have reached out to offer foals when one of their mares has produced a baby with dwarfism, a condition that usually leads to multiple health problems and a shorter life.
The ranch’s “new Peabody” is a 1-year-old male with dwarfism named Buffalo, who is 19 inches tall and weighs about 50 pounds. So named for his thick, shaggy bison-like coat, Buffalo is believed to be one of the smallest living horses in the world, San Severino said.
San Severino used to work as a television writer and editor in her native Vancouver, Canada, before she retired and moved to San Diego in 2012. Not sure what to do next, she decided she wanted to work with horses and she wanted to volunteer as A pet therapist at senior centers for veterans and Alzheimer’s patients. Eventually she hit on the idea of buying and training miniature horses as therapy animals. Now she’s a nationally certified trainer and she works with buyers from all over the country.
According to the US Service Animals official registry, miniature horses make up a small but growing number of service animals in America. They live longer than service dogs (up to 35 years), are non-allergenic, are usually more calm in public spaces and because of their larger size they can be useful as a guide animal for blind people who need to lean on their service animal for support.
San Severino said not every miniature horse is suited to being a therapy animal. They must be docile, unflappable, easily trainable and interested in interacting with people. The training process usually begins at six months of age and can last for three months to a year, depending on the skills that the owner requests. She said most of her buyers, who pay $5,000 and up for the trained minis, are professional women who have worked in the health care and education fields and want to use their horse to help others.
miniature horses are Because popular as therapy animals, Saneverino said she has seen many abuses in the breeding industry. She hopes to use her social media platform to raise awareness about unscrupulous practices. She warns that miniature horses should never be sold before they’re a year old. Some breeders are selling foals at three to five months of age when they are not fully weaned or mature enough to leave their mothers, and they haven’t received any training.
San Severino and Smith said they still miss Peabody but they’re grateful for the time they had with him and the hundreds of thousands of followers he generated to help promote their message about the value of miniature therapy horses.
“All I wanted to do was find a therapy horse for elderly people in the neighborhood. I had no idea I’d find a therapy horse for the world,” she said.