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Believe in Magic

A miniature therapy horse — the winner of our Most Heroic Pet Contest — inspires the world

En español | Magic — a miniature, blue-eyed therapy horse who won AARP The Magazine's most heroic pet contest in 2009 — has been named one of Time's most courageous animals in history.

Four-year-old Magic inspired Kathleen Loper, an assisted living resident, to speak for the first time since arriving at the center several years before.

"Isn't she beautiful?" Loper asked when she first saw Magic. The staff at the assisted living center watched in amazement as Loper continued to talk. "The connection she had with Magic was magical," said Ann Marie Malave, a coordinator at the center. A local reporter and photographer covering a story about therapy horses documented the event.

Before Magic left that day, Loper asked, "Will she come back again?" Loper has been talking ever since.

Magic the Horse with owner Jorge Garcia-Bengochea

Jennifer Anfinsen

Magic with handler Jorge Garcia-Bengochea

Magic's heroism continues to transform other lives in north Florida. She visits hospitals and hospice programs; makes appearances at libraries and schools as part of a literacy program named in her honor; and helps police with community outreach programs in crime-ridden neighborhoods.

But since winning our contest, she’s gained a new level of fame. Newspapers and websites from around the world — including Pakistan, Thailand and Latvia — have written articles about her, and she stars as the main character in a children's book that will be published in October. Proceeds will help support at-risk readers in early childhood literacy programs and a nonprofit school for children with autism.

"She now gets hundreds of emails from children who want to see her," said Debbie Garcia-Bengochea, one of Magic's handlers. "For many, it’s their final wish."

Debbie and her husband, Jorge, founded and run the nonprofit Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses and visit as many people in need as they can. It's a second career for both of them; she was a school principal, he worked in real estate. After adopting three young boys with a history of trauma, the couple, now in their 50's, looked to therapy animals for help.

"We started with a regular-size horse and quickly learned that a larger, more powerful horse can seem daunting to a young child, an elderly person or someone with a disability," said Debbie. "When I saw my first miniature horse, I knew we could do something different."

Like their other 27 miniature therapy horses, Magic is housebroken and has been trained to walk up and down stairs, ride in elevators and stay calm around loud and unexpected noises.

But the Garcia-Bengocheas say there is something special about Magic. She was with a patient as he awoke from a coma and with another who peacefully passed away with his hand resting on her head. She recently spent time with a boy who had just learned his cancer had returned and a woman who hadn't been out of her room in months.

"Magic will meet everyone but then really want to spend time with a certain person," Jorge said. "She always seems to find the person who needs her the most."

At AARP's most recent National Event & Expo, Orlando@50+, roving correspondent Bernard Ohanian got to meet Magic, AARP's "Most Heroic Pet in America," and his fellow therapy horse Rainbow. 

He learned more about why Magic was selected for this honor and how even the smallest horses can have a huge impact on the lives of people in places like hospitals and nursing homes.

First, Ohanian takes us to another event — a simulated journey inside a human lung.

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