Hayley and Nemo’s STEP Adventure

“How firm thy friendship”

Name: Hayley Curran (and Nemo)

Type of Project: Service-Learning and Community Service

  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

Through STEP, I have had the wonderful opportunity to rescue a miniature horse and train him to provide therapy to individuals in nursing homes, schools, and healthcare settings.  Nemo and I have been working hard to grow from an abused, fearful and distrustful miniature horse, to learning how to trust humans again, demonstrated by his willingness to wear tiny tennis shoes, not being afraid of scary noises, spaces, or people, and most importantly, visiting and connecting with people in need.

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

Working with Nemo has completely transformed my perspective and approach to every conversation, meeting, or new situation. I have learned that, in order to gain trust and respect, I must be prepared to give every ounce of patience, kindness, and understanding – even if, on the surface, the individual may not be the most gracious or deserving.

For instance, training Nemo has helped me realize the importance of taking the time to see beyond the surface behavior, something which has given me a new perspective on what it means to work in the healthcare field. Whatever situation I encounter, whatever obstacles I will face, I know that this experience working with Nemo has given me the tools necessary to think outside the box and adapt my approach to successfully work through challenging situations. By taking the time to slow down and quietly evaluate, I know that great strides can be achieved.

  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

Working with such a severely abused and neglected rescue horse has taught me that everyone has a story, and everyone has a chance at a new spin on life. Training Nemo to become a normal horse – not even a therapy horse – was an uphill battle, and absolutely challenged my ability to persevere. There were days that I was so frustrated I cried. I went back into the house completely discouraged. It would have been so much easier to give up, but I knew I would be letting not only myself down, but also Nemo as well.  My ability as a trainer and as a person were tested over and over for months, but, slowly, I started seeing small improvements. Maybe Nemo wouldn’t jump away when I walked to one side of him. Or when he would let me touch his face without trying to run. Or when I could walk him without him rearing up in protest. All very small steps, but all so meaningful to our journey. I was asked – “Why don’t you just get a new horse? Or one who is trained? Or at least not a rescue who was beaten over the head and left to rot alone in a barren barn?”

Well, because all the while I believed in Nemo and his story and our journey.  As a future healthcare professional, and as a human being, it is so important to take a step back from deadlines, overhead pressure, and extenuating circumstances in order to place value and invest in someone’s journey.

Together, Nemo and I persevered. It was not easy for either of us, and we both faced new challenges every day while working to heal old scars. Recovering from the trauma has taken time, patience, and understanding, and has taught me how to be creative and to think outside of the box to figure out new solutions to try when what I was trying didn’t work.

The progress Nemo has made within the last year is remarkable. Horses are prey animals, and their natural instinct is fight and flight. The trauma he endured in his short life is heartbreaking, leaving him terrified of all humans and most everyday situations. To see where he is now, and know that I have been instrumental in teaching him to open his heart and trust is one of my proudest achievements.  Just today, Nemo pulled the scary trashcan up the gravel driveway without balking. In fact, he barely batted an eye, and took it in stride, and pulled that trashcan up the winding driveway like that’s what we have been doing every day for the last year. Having something loud and jostling tied to him is the horse equivalent of having a mountain lion attacking him. I was so proud of him for all of his hard work and most of all, it has taught me that if you don’t give up on them, they won’t give up on you, either.


  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

Working with Nemo has been so valuable to my life not only as a student, but also as a more compassionate and understanding healthcare professional and human being.  Although becoming a “mom” to a 250 pound little creature with no manners and a whole lot of distrust for humans with a full course load and part time job sounded insane, it has been so rewarding to pursue my passion hands-on. As a student it is often difficult to put the course work into practice, and the opportunity to combine my love for animals with desire to make an impact in healthcare and improving mental health has been unbelievably rewarding. Although waking up at 4:30 every morning to care for Nemo, driving over an hour to school, completing 18 credit hours and 15+ hours of work only to rush home from college every evening to work with him before it got too dark outside and then going in to do homework was less than ideal, I never regretted my decision to have the chance to impact not only Nemo’s life, but those individuals we will be helping in our future visits as well.

As a future healthcare professional, my work with Nemo has helped my take a step back and be patient, realizing that everyone has a story and a past, and putting the patient’s needs above a deadline or my personal motivation. Nemo was sold to me as a loving backyard pet, but had actually been abused, and was afraid to be around humans. Understanding this, and learning how to adapt my approach to better suit Nemo has been transformational. It is really about putting yourself to the side and working to rehabilitate the patient.

This is not something that could have been taught in a classroom, and, I imagine, takes a lot of time for people working in people-centered fields to realize. Without Nemo, or STEP, I would not have understood the impact or gravity of working together to complete a seemingly impossible goal. I have realized what it means to become a cohesive team, as I have officially had one of the most difficult teammates ever! With Nemo, I have been taught how to be patient and not give up, and have only confirmed that the harder you work for something, the greater you feel when you achieve it. Learning that the trials and tribulations I experienced with Nemo early on will help me with all future endeavors, roadblocks, and situations, and I will be forever grateful to Ohio State for giving me this opportunity.

So, here’s to welcoming not only the journey, but also the challenge. I have learned that it makes victory that much sweeter.


Working on matching braids and posing :)


Please enjoy a few snapshots of our training process! Training any therapy animal is a very long and detailed process. Because Nemo was abused and neglected, this process took a little longer than originally anticipated in order to ensure the comfort and safety of Nemo, as well as provide patients the best experience possible. We are launching a Facebook and Instagram page this week (@NemotheTherapyMini) and will be doing visits this summer and fall and hope to make new friends at the STEP Expo!!! Thank you for reading about our journey — we are both so grateful for STEP and Ohio State!

Training obstacles    "When one door closes..."   Conquering obstacles together   Training help from my little sister, Alayna! It was important for Nemo to get used to ALL people. Also, it might not look like a big thing, but Nemo holding still with a waving hand near his face was a HUGE milestone!

Sometimes scary things can fly around and land our head...   Therapy horses must be ready for cuddles!   Nemo was not amused waking up as a newly-minted gelding...   We bought/built a horse trailer! Nemo is practicing walking in and out of his special mini-sized stall

Vogue   Working on cuddles !      Nemo loved dressing up for Halloween!!!!      Therapy horse kisses!   Indoor training exercises!! Casual Sunday afternoon, right?    "Oh my God there is a horse in my kitchen!!!!" - my mom    Front porch chillin'


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