A Stable Influence: When Passions for Nursing and Ponies Collide


On a quaint piece of land in Manuels, sits Kelly Power-Kean’s little piece of paradise: a red stable, which now echoes with the pitter-patter of tiny hooves.

It’s where Newfoundland Pony, Belle, and her new ‘baby,’ Salty, call home.

Belle and her baby, Salty

Belle and her baby, Salty

Although Salty’s grand entrance was only last month, nursing students at Southcott Hall have heard stories about the pony’s development for nearly a year.

Salty’s owner, Kelly, is a nurse educator with the Centre for Nursing Studies’ Bachelor of Nursing and Practical Nursing programs, as well as Memorial University’s Nurse Practitioner Program. As a result, her students are no strangers to Newfoundland Ponies. Through Kelly, they’ve learned that Newfoundland Ponies are a lot like humans; they’re intelligent, hard-working and loyal, and, they also have their share of health concerns – from diabetes to joint damage.

“It’s important to show the students that I’m not just an instructor – and that you can practice your nursing skills outside of the clinical setting,” she says.

Her two prized possessions, Belle and Salty, put those skills to work nearly every day. Newfoundland Ponies are easy-keepers, but they also require preventive foot and dental care, in addition to regular vaccinations and examinations. Kelly’s experience as a nurse allows her to care for the ponies in the best way possible. It also serves as a great way to engage students.

Kelly is working to ensure that Salty is used to being handled by humans. So far so good!

Kelly is working to ensure that Salty is used to being handled by humans. So far so good!

“I use my pony caretaking experiences in the classroom often, particularly in a pathophysiology course that I teach,” Kelly explains.

Pathophysiology is a medical discipline that examines the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of common diseases. One of those diseases is metabolic syndrome, in which conditions such as excess body fat can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Believe it or not, Newfoundland Ponies are also susceptible to this.

“Similar to people, the ponies can develop [equine] metabolic syndrome and that can lead to a higher risk of laminitis, meaning they are unable to walk properly. If the ponies are not fed appropriately, it can take a toll on their health. As with humans, early prevention is key.”

Staying active is an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle – for ponies and humans alike. Belle and Salty have a spacious pasture to run in, just outside of the stable. It keeps them active and stress-free, which is the key to preventing metabolic syndrome.

Staying active is an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle – for ponies and humans alike. Belle and Salty have a spacious pasture to run in, just outside of the stable. It keeps them active and stress-free, which is the key to preventing metabolic syndrome.

A 352-day waiting game

When Newfoundland Ponies are pregnant, it’s a whole other medical experience.

On average, Newfoundland Ponies are pregnant for 340 days. Belle, on the other hand, was pregnant with Salty for 352 days – over 11 months!

Finally, on a Sunday morning in July, little Salty – at all of 40 pounds – was born.

“I couldn’t wait to go to work and tell everyone that the pony was finally here,” Kelly laughs.

Within a day, Salty was frolicking around the stable and mimicking her mother eating hay. She’s silly, affectionate, and possessive of Belle. According to Kelly, Belle was an instant mother figure; she also keeps the curious pony in-line.

Nurse Practitioner, educator, and volunteer-extraordinaire

Kelly is a helper by trade, having been a nurse for nearly 33 years, and a nurse practitioner for 17. Of those 33 years, she’s spent 11 educating student nurses at the Centre for Nursing Studies. Her “part-time gig,” as she refers to it, is registrar for the Newfoundland Pony Society: the official organization responsible for the preservation and protection of the Newfoundland Pony.

Years ago, Newfoundland Ponies were involved in every aspect of daily life, especially in rural areas on the island of Newfoundland. They transported doctors, nurses and midwives to visit patients, and they also carried caskets in funeral processions.

But with the rise of industrialization and no-roaming laws, the Newfoundland Pony was near extinction by the 1980s. Thanks to the hard work of caring individuals and the Newfoundland Pony Society, the global breeding population is now approximately 365. Every birth counts – and Belle and Salty are contributing to this population.

In her role as the registrar, Kelly registers Newfoundland Ponies to the foundation’s global database. This allows the society to keep track of the endangered species’ population, and it also provides a visual map of the breeding history.

Kelly feeds Belle a carrot, her favourite snack. For 10 years, Kelly and Belle have shared a bond. That bond has only become stronger with the newest addition to the herd.

Kelly feeds Belle a carrot, her favourite snack. For 10 years, Kelly and Belle have shared a bond. That bond has only become stronger with the newest addition to the herd.

Passions become lessons

Caring for Newfoundland Ponies is not just a way for Kelly to help preserve the pony population or hone her medical skills, it also provides her with a satisfying escape after a busy day. At night, you will often find Kelly inside the stable admiring the sweet animals that have become such an important part of her life.

And, it all fits into her teaching mission.

“I want my students to leave my class knowing that nursing matters, and that the skills they learn inside the classroom will serve them far beyond the clinical space. Some of the best lessons that I’ve learned have happened outside of the classroom.”

In the true spirit of Newfoundland generosity, her ponies are always happy to oblige.■

This story was written by Sarah Greening, a public relations co-op student at Eastern Health.

 

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