Bed-bound residents at a Hertfordshire care home felt the powerful connection of animal therapy this week when a trio of Shetland ponies visited the home to bring joy and comfort – following a challenging 18 months for the social care sector.
Foxholes Care Home, near Hitchin, welcomed Pickles, Romeo and Oliver from local equine service Pixie and Pickles Adventures, enabling residents and staff to pet, hug and take selfies with the horses, which live in paddocks in nearby Gosmore.
While the occasion brought joy and excitement to the bed-bound residents in the home, the initiative was also organised to provide comfort to those who were residing in the lounge areas on floors Norton and Holwell. The experience was orchestrated to boost emotional wellbeing, with many residents having lived through the isolation of lockdown, and some having recovered from COVID-19.
Professionally trained, the therapy horses were escorted around residents’ rooms in a bid to lower anxiety and stress levels, stimulate memory and endorphins, and reduce depression and blood pressure.
The experience resonated closely with former esteemed rider, Roma Taylor, 86, who even used to conduct horse therapy sessions herself when she was a school teacher.
There was also a personal connection for cousins Margaret Waller, 93, and Bryan Orchard, 95, who grew up around horses, while Bryan’s daughter used to run her own riding school.
Margaret said she “loved” the session, while Bryan made no effort in hiding his emotions after being reunited with the animals he described as a “huge part of my life.”
Originating from the Shetland Isles in the north of Scotland, the trio of ponies are sensitive and intuitive animals, who are trained to mirror several human emotions. They allow people to relax as they accept everyone without judgement, which 90-year-old Iris Clark described as “absolutely marvellous”.
Neil Gandecha, estate manager at Foxholes Care Home, said: “To see so many beaming smiles light up the room really made this an experience we’ll never forget. The past 18 months have been an emotional rollercoaster for everyone at Foxholes and we felt our wonderful residents deserved a special treat, especially those who have found the pandemic particularly challenging.
“The unique experience has proven to be an excellent way to give our residents some joy, while also, and importantly, allowing them to have the time and space to address their emotional wellbeing in a supportive environment. Looking after the mental wellbeing of our residents is a key priority at Foxholes and we were well aware of the benefits animal therapy can have on someone’s life. We can’t thank Pixie and Pickles Adventures enough and look forward to welcoming Pickles, Romeo and Olive back in the near future.”