Willie Nelson, Bath’s miniature horse, will be on national TV


Willie Nelson will make his national television debut on Wednesday on “The Kelly Clarkson Show.”

But it’s not the country singer who appears on the pop singer’s daytime talk show — this Willie Nelson is Bath’s miniature therapy horse who visits patients at Akron Children’s Hospital.

Betty Lin Fisher:Willie Nelson is a pony in training to take on the big fire shoes Petie the Pony

Continued:Betty Lin-Fisher: Pony Willie Nelson makes first official visit to Akron Children’s Hospital

The road to Willie Nelson appearing on the show has been long and winding, says Victory Gallop co-director Sue Miller.

“It’s kind of a weird story,” she said.

Miller frequently walks his dogs in Bath Nature Reserve near Victory Gallop. She often sees the same people. Over time, in mid-2020, she started chatting with Derek Duda, a Bath resident who often walked past with his dogs.

Sue Miller (left) co-founder and co-director of Victory Gallop and volunteer Toril Simon clean Willie Nelson's hooves in Bath in this March 2018 photo. Willie Nelson was in training as he prepared to visit of patients at Akron Children's Hospital.

The next time she saw Duda, he said he watched Victory Gallop and thought it sounded like a cool place. He asked him if he could come and visit him.

Miller assumed she had to wear a Victory Gallop sweatshirt on one of her walks and piqued her curiosity.

“He came out and he visited the place and we talked and I told him all about Willie Nelson,” Miler recalled.

Duda said he should tell his sister about Willie Nelson, to which Miler replied, “Why?”

Turns out his sister is the producer of the “The Kelly Clarkson Show.”

Willie Nelson, the miniature horse, visits patients during his debut at Akron Children's Hospital in May 2018.

“I started laughing and I was like, ‘Come out…are you going to get us up’The Kelly Clarkson Show‘ and he said, ‘I’ll try.’ ”

Time passed and the therapeutic and recreational horse farm celebrated its 25th anniversary in October 2020.

One day, the dog walker texted Miller and said his sister was in town and he wanted to show her Willie Nelson.

The producer told Miller that Clarkson would like Willie Nelson. Miller sent her back to California with a bunch of miniature ponies that hospital patients get on a visit.

More time passed, and Miller received a text asking him to shoot a quick 30-second audition video.

Miniature horse Willie Nelson is hauled out of the horse trailer by his handler Toril Simon, a Victory Gallop volunteer, for his debut with patients as a therapy horse at Akron Children's Hospital in 2018.

“We quickly grabbed Willie Nelson and had kids on the farm, so we were like, ‘Hey Kelly, you know this is us from Victory Gallop. And this is Willie Nelson and we’d love to be in your show, “and then I told a really dumb joke at the end,” Miller said.

Why wouldn’t the pony sing? Because he’s a small horse.

“I figured she’d appreciate that,” Miller laughed.

Late that fall, the show began trying to figure out the logistics of bringing Willie Nelson to California. They considered flying the miniature horse in a special plane, but the costs exceeded $10,000, Miller said. She also considered driving it, but the logistics again got too crazy for the trek across the country.

Victory Gallop volunteer Toril Simon visits a patient at Akron Children's Hospital with miniature pony Willie Nelson during his debut on May 1, 2018.

“And then we didn’t hear anything for a while and I thought, ‘Oh, well, you know, it’s probably just one of those things that won’t happen now. ”

Last week, the show reached out to Miller and asked if she could Skype with Clarkson from the stables.

Miller used his phone on a tripod in the barn with Willie Nelson to chat with Clarkson on Thursday. Miller also provided photos of Willie Nelson touring the hospital for a short intro video.

Willie Nelson and Victory Gallop will be featured at the end of Wednesday’s show, which airs at 11 a.m. on WKYC (Channel 3).

Watch the Kelly Clarkson Show – Official Website Web Exclusive: Meet Willie Nelson – The Mini Therapy Horse Bringing Joy to Children’s Hospitals in Ohio – NBC.com

At the end of each show, Clarkson features things she “likes”.

In the intro video, Clarkson describes Victory Gallop and her mission to help children in the community, Miller said. The music star also said she had heard of therapy animals visiting hospitals, but not a horse.

Victory Gallop therapy miniature horse Willie Nelson rides in the elevator at Akron Children's Hospital for his first visits with patients at Akron Children's Hospital on May 1, 2018.

“She was really cute and bubbly,” said Clarkson’s Miller, whose show partner sponsor also donated $1,000 to the nonprofit.

‘We were just thrilled that Little Willie Nelson from Bath, Ohio was on’The Kelly Clarkson Show.’ “

And what did Willie Nelson think of it?

“He was perfect. He stayed there the whole time. He doesn’t care,” Miller said.

Eventually he fell asleep on her lap, she said.

In Petie’s Footsteps

Willie Nelson debuted at Akron Children’s Hospital in May 2018 after training. He replaced Petie the longtime pony, who gained national attention as the first horse to gain access to patients in an American hospital. He visited patients at Akron Children’s for 20 years and about eight years at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.

He developed cancer and had to be euthanized in September 2017. More than 150 people came to a memorial service for him at the farm.

Willie Nelson returned to Children’s last August for visits after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the hospital to restrict volunteers, Miller said.

Willie Nelson and other farm friends continued to make virtual visits with hospitalized children when they couldn’t be there, Miller said. She adapted each virtual visit to the interest of the patient and showed him different animals.

Willie Nelson usually takes the winter off to the hospital for weekly visits because he needs a bath before leaving and it’s too cold to transport him, Miller said. But Victory Gallop recently received a heated van through a grant, which will allow her to travel in cold weather.

Miller hopes to be back in hospitals by February, COVID protocols permitting.

Beacon Journal reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected] Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ To see her most recent stories and columns, go to www.tinyurl.com/bettylinfisher


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