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Luis Garcia leads Pacific Blue Lily around the Toy Crazy store in Malibu. Scott Steepleton/Surfside News photos
Pacific Blue Lily needed some coaxing to get down the stairs at Malibu Country Mart.
Garcia, left, leads Pacific Blue Lily and Mini Therapy Horses founder Victoria Nodiff-Netanel, right, leads Pacific Desert Sky from the pair’s first training site on Thursday, Malibu Library.
At Blue Bottle Coffee, Briana Walden couldn’t help saying hello to the mini horses.
Scott Steepleton, Editor
7:32 pm PDT April 1, 2021

Stuck on the ranch for a year because of COVID, two “hooved angels” spent time in Malibu on Thursday getting ready to fulfill a high calling: healing hearts and minds.

Pacific Desert Sky and Pacific Blue Lily are miniature horses from the nonprofit Mini Therapy Horses, whose nine equine practitioners provide a calming sensory experience for those in need. Before the pandemic, the horses were regulars at veterans facilities, hospitals and juvenile courts in the greater Los Angeles area and beyond. They’ve even appeared in the Rose Parade.

But the pandemic put a stop to the visits.

Now that things are reopening, the horses are preparing to spread “hope and healing for a healthy future.”

That means meeting people, learning to walk on a variety of surfaces, navigating tight indoor spaces and getting comfortable around moving cars, Victoria Nodiff-Netanel, the charity’s founder and executive director, told Surfside News at the first stop on Thursday’s training, outside Malibu Library.

“We’re desensitizing them today. We’re going to have a great desensitizing day with traffic and people, different footings. The horses have to know a lot of obedience. They have to be potty trained. They have to go off hand gestures and be desensitized to everything to be able to work in hospitals.”

From the library, the horses, with Nodiff-Netanel and Luis Garcia at the lead, calmly crossed Civic Center Way and came to the first big test: walking up the stairs at Malibu Country Mart.

Both passed with flying colors.

From there, they walked through Toy Crazy, where Nodiff-Netanel buys them rubber balls and other toys.

“It was tight quarters,” said Nodiff-Netanel. “There’s so much to look at in there and people and sounds and smells. That raises their anxiety level, but then we use positive reinforcement to show them this is fun, we’re their leaders and for them to feel secure.”

So, how did they do?

“Fantastic,” said Nodiff-Netanel. “I’d say five stars.”

Leaving the center required three steps down, which Desert Sky did just fine; Lilly Blue needed some coaxing from Garcia.

They also walked through the Park at Cross Creek, where there was more stair work, and visits to several businesses, including Malibu in Sight Optometry and Blue Bottle Coffee.

In normal times, Nodiff-Netanel and her team of volunteers will bring the horses to 50,000 children and adults across the country. One of those stops is Shriners for Children Medical Center in Pasadena.

“We work with a lot of children who are amputees, and they love the horses,” said Nodiff-Netanel. “When they are afraid, maybe getting a cast off or after surgery, it makes such a difference to have these little horses to comfort them and distract them.”

“We love helping people.”

Watch the video here.

To donate to Mini Therapy Horses, click here.