Allie Westphal stood nose to nose with a miniature horse named Charlie and smiled.

She ran her hands over his neck and petted his painted coat.

“He’s soft,” she said.

For the 9-year-old girl from Saginaw, Michigan, the one-on-one equine visit represented a highlight of her stay at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

She giggled over Charlie’s colorful shoes―which help his footing on hospital floors―and accepted little horse kisses.

Charlie, 3 feet tall and 215 pounds, delivered a special brand of therapy to Allie and dozens of other children at the hospital on this special day. Ronica Froese, the owner of Little Horses Big Smiles Therapy, went from floor to floor at the hospital with the Child Life team, introducing him to children from infancy through teen years.

“Charlie will be 3 on May 7, so he’s just a baby,” she told Allie.

“I like horses,” Allie said. “I’ve wanted to ride a horse ever since I was 1.”

“Oh, he likes you,” Froese said, as the girl nuzzled the horse. “He’s smiling at you!”

For many children, Charlie showed off his basketball skills. He picked up a soft basketball and dunked it in a hoop just his size.

When 9-year-old Addison Post visited, Charlie didn’t feel like taking shots.

He picked up the ball, tossed his head, and flung the ball back toward Froese.

Addie and her 6-year-old sister, Ciri, burst into giggles.

Froese, hands on hips, tried to look sternly at the horse.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

Charlie snorted, and that sent the girls giggling again.

The visit was a welcome respite for Addie, who has spent two weeks in the hospital as she gets tests and treatments for a rare condition called oculoectodermal syndrome.

“As soon as she heard there was going to be a horse here today, she was through the roof,” said her dad, Jon Post. “She was so excited.”

After they met the horse, Addie and Ciri played with the stuffed ponies they had received from Charlie. The mood represented a big switch for Addie, and left her parents feeling grateful for the brighter day.

“This is like holy-cow-crazy awesome,” Post said. “For her to get as excited as this, that is worth its weight in gold.”