There’s nothing quite like looking down the hall and seeing a herd of perfectly coiffed ponies strutting through the door. Their manes are perfectly groomed, and they walk calmly and casually as if visiting public buildings far from any farm is no big deal. In fact, these ponies are no strangers to being invited into common access areas, living rooms, and even people’s bedrooms. That’s because they’re part of Therapy Ponies Scotland, and they have a job to do.
Elaine and John Sangster own Therapy Ponies Scotland along with a herd of 15 beautiful Shetland ponies. And while their ponies live full-time on their farm, there is more to their lives than grazing in pastures. These ponies are therapy ponies, and their specialty is bringing joy to people with dementia.
According to Horse and Hound, the Sangsters and their ponies spend most of their days visiting local care facilities. From nursing homes to hospice homes, care facilities are starting to embrace the somewhat surprising idea of therapy ponies. Similar to therapy dogs, ponies have a special way of communicating with people that relieves stress and lifts spirits. Nurse consultant for Alzheimer Scotland and NHS Grampian, Lyn Irvine, said,
“The interaction with the ponies often helps stimulate a positive social response from people living with dementia and minimizes stress and distress. The animals provide comfort, joy, and a sense of excitement.”
Elaine and John typically take eight ponies with them for every visit. And while the logistics of getting all those animals into a building and interacting with people sounds difficult, Therapy Ponies Scotland has their system down to a science. All of the ponies are trained and well-behaved. Most of them have been with Elaine and John since they were foals, and they’ve grown up preparing for their jobs as therapy ponies. They’re groomed to the point that their coats are silky and smooth, and they have “whoops-a-daisy” bags to prevent any embarrassing messes from landing on the carpet.
When people meet the therapy ponies, there’s a sense of excitement and comfort in the room. Elaine says people often interact with the ponies in ways they no longer do with humans. She’s seen dementia patients who typically choose not to speak suddenly start talking. They reminisce about other horse’s they’ve known in their lives or simply talk to the ponies about their days.
The herd of helpful ponies usually sets up in a common area where residents can come and see them, but they also make special trips. They ride elevators and visit the bedsides of people who can’t leave their rooms. For many people, it’s the highlight of their week.
Elaine and John are extremely proud of their ponies and the work they do. They plan on helping as many people as possible and advocating for the power of therapy ponies.
Visit them on Facebook to see more of what they’re up to.