Outside the front door of Moors Park House Care Home in Bishopsteignton, Dipsybell the Shetland pony lets herself in and happily wanders in to the living room, accompanied by staff from the Mare and Foal Sanctuary, to say hello to some of the residents.
After making her way around the group of people who have come to see her, it’s off down the corridor and in to some of the bedrooms to see some of the residents who are less able to get up and about.
Dipsybell meets resident Jack Milligan, who after giving her a good scratch tells of how he used to help out with the donkeys giving rides on the beach, then she heads down the hall to see Marjorie O’Connell for more fuss and cuddles.
The visits were the idea of Sally Page, Head of Education at The Mare and Foal Sanctuary who explains, “I have seen first-hand the benefits animals can bring to people. The residents whose bedrooms we went in to were delighted when Dipsybell walked in to see them. “
The Sanctuary takes ponies to a number of care homes around Devon, where they meet all sorts of people, including those with Dementia.
Sally, “There is scientific research to show that interaction with a pony eases suffering of Dementia patients so the beauty of going to see older persons and especially ones with dementia is that interacting with the animals gives them the opportunity to recall memories of having owned, encountered or worked with ponies when they were young and it encourages them to talk.”
Otterly Moir, Carer at Moors Park House says “It’s so great for our residents to get up close and interact with the ponies. They really love making a connection and the tactile experience touching and stroking the pony brings. It really makes a difference.”
For staff at the Mare and Foal Sanctuary, introducing people to ponies is all part of the education work the charity carries out in addition to its rescue and rehabilitation, and visiting care and residential homes is an important part of its community involvement.
It’s not just the residents that benefit, for ponies like Dipsybell (14) and her mum Annabel (16) who were rescued by the charity when their owner could no longer care for them, it’s part of their training.
Due to their calm and friendly characters these two are now mascots for the charity, commanding their own army of fans and helping to raise awareness of issues affecting equines and the charity to raise more funds to rescue more animals. Dipsybell is one of 5 ponies that are part of the adoption scheme the Sanctuary runs, and one of the most popular.