Many people are familiar with dogs being used as therapy pets in care homes but how about ponies and donkeys? Step forward the cutest therapy donkey we at Citron Hygiene have ever seen: Mr. Kipling, aptly named due to his exceedingly kind nature, and his equally as adorable pony pal, Twiggy.
Together, Mr Kipling and Twiggy have visited many care homes, bringing companionship and emotional warmth to dementia sufferers. Collectively known as Ponypals, Mr. Kipling and his fellow teams of miniature donkeys and ponies visit nursing homes across Surrey. Together with owner and trainer, Caroline they visit people, often at their bedsides, and bring a stimulating, positive and enjoyable experience to patients and staff alike.
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Why take ponies and donkeys to care homes in the first place?
Owner Caroline explains, “We find it’s very therapeutic for people to have an animal with them. Often people will open up much more to an animal than they do to another person! The patients stroke and touch the animals and if they want to, we encourage them to plait the manes or even thread ribbons and feathers through. However, most are just happy to feel the ponies and donkeys and enjoy their lovely, soft nature.”
Whilst dogs are very popular as therapy pets, Caroline believes there is something especially meaningful about using horses and ponies. “Many care home residents are from a generation where horses and donkeys were actually very common, such as having a donkey-ride at the seaside. Their parents may well have used ponies and horses for manual labour or indeed for transport. Dementia patients can have special memories triggered by seeing the ponies, perhaps not always immediately but some time after the visit.”
Any problems getting around the premises?
Understandably, some care homes are often unconvinced when Caroline first approaches care home managers to ask about visiting. heir concerns are important; dementia patients can be fragile and unpredictable, plus the homes typically have a great deal of equipment on their premises. Caroline acknowledges that she can’t train her animals for every single event that could ever happen in a care-home, so she has trained her ponies to stand still and ‘shut off’ and wait for the incident, such as a drinks trolley rattling past, to stop. The animals are happy to simply wait and they remain calm and relaxed as a result. And if any care home managers are worried about how the animals will get up to second floor bedrooms, they needn’t worry: these amazing little animals have been trained to go inside lifts and be happily transported to wherever they need to go next!
But what about the mess?
As a national hygiene provider, Citron Hygiene knows how important care home cleanliness and hygiene is for maintaining good occupancy rates. What’s remarkable about Ponypals is that Caroline has house-trained all her ponies. This is important for practical reasons but she also doesn’t want to break up a special moment between a patient and a pony due to a sudden call of nature!
But the attention to cleanliness doesn’t stop there; the ponies and donkeys also wear special footwear, like trainers, over their hooves to keep the floors clean.
The benefits of pony therapy in care homes
Apart from the sheer enjoyment of being in contact with these gentle animals, there are many benefits for care home residents. Some residents are able to get out of their wheelchairs and walk alongside the ponies on a lead. Others enjoy the eye-hand stimulation of plaiting or threading feathers and ribbons.
It’s clear that the patients love the experience and their families are delighted that such an amazing activity has taken place in the care home. Perhaps the greatest testament to what these animals can achieve is how a dementia patient who never opened his eyes or engaged with his family, did so during a pony visit; he opened his eyes as he was stroking the pony. Truly a wonderful thing for anyone to witness – and proof that care homes are successfully challenging out-dated and negative perceptions.