W - Little prince with teddy

Little Prince's hooves are the size of quarters, his owner says.  When people first saw the picture of him, they thought he was a child's stuffed animal.

HIGH SPRINGS – On July 22, 2013, the same day the new prince was born in the U.K., an unusual pure white colt with blue eyes was born at the ranch headquarters of Gentle Carousel Therapy Horses in High Springs. “Both births were overdue,” said owner Debbie Garcia-Bengochea. “When I checked on the time difference in England, both were born at about the same time as well,” she said.

“Because Liberty, the colt’s mother, was overdue, we weren’t expecting a baby as tiny as this. He was 14 inches tall at the shoulders and weighed only 10 pounds at birth. The average miniature horse foals are 20 to 22 inches at the shoulders at birth,” she said. “Our horses are much smaller than the average miniature horse.”

“He is totally healthy and doing great,” she said. The horse’s mother is also pure white, which is called a silver-black sabino. “It is a type of pinto, but without spots,” she said. “We have lab testing done on all our horses so we know what colors they carry. He is definitely not an albino.”

With all the media attention on the new British prince, it was surprising that the little white colt was seen by over 1 million people around the world on Facebook on Aug. 6. “Two different equine-related sites picked up the photo and between the two they received 1 million hits that day,” Garcia-Bengochea said. In addition, Google sent them a note recently saying they love their website. “We have stayed at number one in their search engine for the past two years with no advertising dollars. Just go to the Google search engine and type in ‘Therapy Horses’ and our site comes up,” she said.

“We subsequently received more than 10,000 name ideas from all over the world,” she said. “Who knew there were so many white horses in legends and books in different languages?”

People from France suggested he be named after the author of the book, “The Little Prince.” Because of his blue eyes, Native American names were also suggested. People in Europe wanted names that had to do with the royal family. Many people in the U.S. thought he looked like the Lone Ranger's horse, Silver.

“We finally registered his official name as Silver Sovereign. His barn name is the Little Prince,” she said.

Photos on their Facebook site of her husband, Jorge, holding the tiny horse led people to believe they had developed a tiny stuffed toy horse and the couple received orders for the toy from all over the world. “Although he looks like a little toy right now, he will eventually work inside children’s hospitals and hospice programs,” Garcia-Bengochea said.

“We expect he will grow to probably 22 inches, full grown,” she said. “Right now he walks around the house and I can hear his tiny feet on the floor as he prances around.” His feet are currently the size of quarters, she said.

“We try to expose our horses to as many different sights, sounds, noises and smells as possible during the first 24 hours,” she said. “He does not stay in the house, but we wanted to expose him to it as soon as we could so he wouldn’t be afraid of the different surface under him. We work with our horses to make it so they are not scared by sirens, unusual noises, wheelchairs, elevators and hospital smells,” she said.

During the training process, the couple takes their new babies, along with their mothers, to UF Health Shands Rehab Hospital on Northwest 39th Avenue in Gainesville. They get used to being around wheelchairs and medical equipment.

“The patients, mostly spinal cord and burn injury sufferers, love it…especially when the horses are little babies,” she said. “The patients feel like they are giving back by helping to get these little guys trained.”

The Little Prince will start training at the facility around the first of September. Everything they do at this stage also includes the foal’s mother. “We use the building’s elevators to help get the horses used to things moving under them. Most hospitals we go to have elevators and often the elevators are full of people. The horses have to be unafraid and understand how to behave in an elevator full of people,” she said.

The younger the horse is when training begins, the easier it is for them to get comfortable with everything that is normally very “unhorse like.” “We are being the herd leader so they trust us and feel we’re in charge and they won’t get hurt,” she said. Handling the horses from the time they are born has made a very big difference in their ability to accept the myriad of different things they will be exposed to in a hospital setting.

“Ambulance sounds, bumping into wheelchairs, medical smells, cleaning products, walking on different floor surfaces and being confined in an elevator which is moving under them would all be very confusing to a grown horse not previously exposed to these sights and smells,” Garcia-Bengochea said. “Our training program lasts about two years. The babies are weaned at about 4 months old. We keep them with their mothers in the first stages of training to help them feel more secure.”

The Little Prince’s first exposure to the public will be at the Oleno State Park’s Literacy Festival in September. “Both he and his mom will appear at the beginning of the event at his first meet and greet,” she said. He will not stay through the event. “We try to introduce them to different things gradually, so they feel comfortable,” she said.

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