Editor’s note: INB employees play an active role in making our community a better place. Here’s one, heartwarming story where we’re seeing this play out.

mini horsesIt was an article in the local newspaper that first captured John Maxfield’s attention. He read about the nonprofit organization Heartland Mini Hoofs in the Springfield State Journal-Register and called to ask if they would visit River Birch Senior Living, where his sister Carol had been living. 

The single visit was all it took for John (SVP, Commercial Lending for INB) to become attached – both to the mission of Heartland Mini Hoofs and to the mini horses themselves. 

“We could tell he’d been around horses; he had owned and cared for horses, so we asked him to volunteer,” said Andra Ebert, Heartland Mini Hoofs’ director. “He started coming with me to Springfield visits and other visits around the area.”

Therapeutic Volunteering 

Heartland Mini Hoofs is a special type of animal-assisted program that serves central Illinois. Three American Miniature Horses – Bailey, Jasper and Winnie – provide therapy, programming and uplifting visits to those in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, Alzheimer's units, schools, hospitals and other places.

“I like an organization whose sole purpose is to brighten someone’s day. These horses appeal to everyone, regardless of age or background,” John said. “And Andra is so upbeat, energetic and passionate about what she does.”

John’s devotion to Heartland Mini Hoofs interested Donna Smith, branch manager of INB’s Dirksen branch, when the two began dating. Today, John and Donna both assist on Heartland outings.

“The first visit I attended was to a nursing home. The expressions of the residents were priceless and so warming,” Donna recalled. “It makes your day to see the joy the mini horses bring to people of all ages.”

Busy Horses Require Many Volunteers

While Donna is too diplomatic to name a favorite horse (“all three are very adorable,” she said), John admits that his favorite mini horse is Bailey.

“She has beautiful markings and is perfect during visits. Andra tells me she is not so well behaved back at the barn, but I don’t believe it!” he said.

Andra said she relies on dedicated volunteers like John and Donna. Heartland is usually booked three months in advance with three to four visits each week; last year, they did 166 visits throughout central Illinois. Typically, the organization takes two or three horses to each visit and needs a handler for each horse.

“My volunteers need to be capable of handling the horse but also working with people who sometimes have complex medical challenges,” Andra said. “John and Donna have those ‘people skills,’ and that’s important.

“They have amazing hearts to be willing to commit the time and effort to do something for people they don’t even know. They’re willing to constantly give back.”

For John, his years volunteering with Heartland have been extremely fulfilling.

“I enjoy working with the horses and seeing the joy they bring to people of all ages,” he said. “Children love them and older adults in nursing homes who grew up with horses are especially fond of them as well. Our visits to HSHS Children’s Hospital are always special. I take away something from every visit.”