Tender Little Hearts

Terry Holmes-Steck knows you don’t have to be big to have a big impact. Her miniature horses prove it every day, as they encourage struggling young readers and touch the lives of those most in need of comfort.

Following a 40-year career as a dental hygienist, Homes-Steck launched Tender Little Hearts (TLH) Mini Tales and Assisted Equine Services, a non-profit that spreads joy with the clip-clop of tiny hooves. With a mission to build productive relationships and make a positive impact in the lives of others, TLH has one goal: to make the world a better place.

That’s where Mazy, Dolly, Boone, Buddy and Josie come in. Through TLH’s Mini Tales program, the therapy horses and donkeys encourage young readers with regular visits to local schools and libraries. But it’s not just the young who benefit from the tiny quintet’s charm; TLH also brings the qualified therapy animals to hospitals, rehab centers, memory care facilities and the like. “We go anywhere a human can benefit from our programs and services,” Holmes-Steck says.

To date, TLH has provided over 10,000 hours of volunteer service to enrich the lives of Arizona’s children, adults and seniors. Volunteer Cindy Gibson attests to the organization’s value. “I love the smiles that spread as residents hear the little horses have arrived and the stories they share as childhood memories are roused,” she says. Gibson’s also witnessed the impact on children. “Listening to a child read to a horse, while ensuring their new friend can see the pictures is magical,” she muses.

Running the non-profit requires an incredible amount of work, but Holmes-Steck refuses to slow down. “Many go through life not finding their purpose, but after just one equine therapy visit, I knew I had found mine,” she explains. “These little horses do powerful things.”