NAVARRE — When Frankie hopped out of the back of his owner's vehicle, Capt. Chad Shetler of the Navarre Police Department thought, at first, the animal was a St. Bernard.

As the fluffy, brown-and-white creature trotted closer to him, he realized Frankie is a miniature horse.

Cheyenne Link, who lives in Sugar Creek Township, just outside the Navarre village limits, purchased Frankie on Dec. 1 with plans of training him to be a therapy animal. In order for that to happen, the first steps are to teach him to follow commands and to socialize him with other people.

After a successful visit at Tractor Supply Co. on Erie Avenue Southwest, Link thought she would drop by the police station to say hello.

"I kind of laughed when she came in," Shetler said. "This is the first that a pony has been in the Police Department."

Finding Frankie

Growing up on a farm instilled a love for animals in Link. Many of her neighbors owned horses, and she developed a love for horses before she could walk, she said.

Now 20, Link took riding lessons for four years and got her first horse, a thoroughbred mare, after graduating from Fairless High School in 2017. Six months ago, Link looked into getting a miniature horse.

That became reality when Laura Massie of Tranquility Acres in Wooster learned late one evening Link was looking for a mini. After messaging Link the details over social media, the two met, and Frankie soon was off to his new home.

Massie doesn't typically get on Facebook at night, but when she saw Link's call-out, she decided to send her photos of the 5-month-old pony. Massie, who had been looking to sell the horse, called it "a God thing" that they were brought together.

She initially tried to sell the horse through an auctioneer, but that fell through. After speaking with Link, she knew Frankie would have a good home.

"It was kind of a gut feeling," Massie said. "I've been in the horse business most of my life, and I always tell people to 'Go with your gut.' I just have a good feeling about it."

Bringing smiles

When Link first took Frankie to Tractor Supply, she loved seeing the smiles on the faces of children and adults alike. She was surprised at how quickly Frankie adapted to his surroundings.

Part of being a therapy animal requires the animal not to be frightened easily. Frankie didn't hesitate at the sliding-glass doors and didn't flinch when small children ran up to pet him.

"He fits the bill for everything I was looking for," Link said. "He's making it super easy to train him. His personality matches everything I could ask for."

Frankie has a calm disposition, which has made it easy for Link to bond with him. When it's time to go for a ride, Frankie hops into the back of her green Honda CR-V — with a little assistance due to his short legs. When it's time to visit someone, he hops down and follows alongside her.

"He's a very fast learner," Link said. "Usually one time showing it to him, and he's got it."

Long-term goals for Frankie include training him to go into nursing homes and children's hospitals. While there's no stipulations on taking him into a nursing home, Frankie will need similar training to that of a service dog to enter a children's hospital.

Frankie will need to learn to sit on command and follow any orders Link might give him. Because he's still young, Link said, she is working with basic training, such as following her.

Link has been working with another horse owner near Minerva who has trained therapy horses. Properly training a horse can take as long as three years. Link, however, is excited for the journey and the memories to be made along the way.

"It's so much fun," she said. "I enjoy it. He brings smiles to people's faces. That's what I want to do with my animals, and something I'm very excited to do with him."

Reach Samantha Ickes at 330-775-1133, Samantha.Ickes@IndeOnline.com or on Twitter at @sickesINDE