Hospital patients are being treated by PONIES - who are trained to relieve stress and boost mental health. JAMES-LINSELL-CLARK/SWNS
Hospital patients are being treated by PONIES - who are trained to relieve stress and boost mental health. JAMES-LINSELL-CLARK/SWNS

Hospital patients are being treated by PONIES - who are trained to relieve stress and boost mental health. JAMES-LINSELL-CLARK/SWNS



By Jake Meeus-Jones

Hospital patients are being treated by PONIES – who are trained to relieve stress and boost mental health.

Lindsey Head, 56, launched Pixie and Pickles Adventures following the death of her dad in 2019.

She started with just two ponies – Pixie and Pickles – but now has a string of seven, which also visit care homes, schools, hospices and refuges.

Studies have found that equine therapy can have significant psychological benefits, including reducing feelings of depression.

Hospital patients are being treated by PONIES – who are trained to relieve stress and boost mental health. JAMES-LINSELL-CLARK/SWNS

Lindsey visits Lister Hospital in Stevenage, Herts., twice a month. Her most recent visit was on Tuesday.

The animals tended to more than 60 patients – and “put a smile on everyone’s faces,” staff said.

Lindsey, a ward sister at a private hospital from Hitchin, Herts., added: “It’s wonderful when we do the hospitals.

“The doctors and the staff and all the patients get something out of it.

“Everyone wants selfies and cuddles. It’s lovely and gives them temporary relief.

“You fall in love with them as soon as you see them and one of them is recognised as a dementia specialist pony as well – they’re just amazing.

“The doctors and therapists love it as well and talk to the ponies!

“They’ve had so much positive feedback – all we do is shampoo and dry the ponies and get them there and they do all the hard work.

“They’ve been amazing with children as well.”

Lindsey’s idea for the business was sparked after she saw how beneficial they were to her late father when they visited him in a care home.

She said: “After my old companion horse died we got Pixie and Pickles to keep my old retired horse company.

“My dad loved seeing the ponies every day. He was taken to hospital for a fall and he went into a care home afterwards.

Hospital patients are being treated by PONIES – who are trained to relieve stress and boost mental health. JAMES-LINSELL-CLARK/SWNS

“One day the staff asked if we could bring the ponies in to see him as he kept talking about them.

“It was such a success and I thought it could be something.

“When Dad died, I took Pickles in the house to see him for a few hours before he passed and she just stood by his side.

“It’s just grown and grown since and more and more ponies have arrived. We have seven now. It’s taken off big time.”

 

Lindsey soon struck up a deal with the East and North Hertfordshire Hospitals’ Charity for the ponies to visit Lister Hospital.

A two-hour visit costs £200.

Lindsey said: “I knew they had therapy dogs visiting the hospital and I asked if they could have therapy ponies in the hospital.

“They agreed and we were supposed to do two visits a year and we’re currently doing two a month – it’s just snowballed.

“They wear nappies and they’re all cleaned beforehand – these ponies are more clean than the floor in the hospital.”

“We’re now in talks with Great Ormond Street which will be amazing as well.”

Lindsey says only two or three ponies attend a visit at a time but says all of them are well-trained and behaved.

She added: “The others look disappointed when they can’t go out to hospital – they love it!

“Ours are so well-behaved, they have a job and a purpose and off we go to see people.

“The vets can’t believe how lovely they are.

“They just pose next to people and have photos and cuddles – they’re so professional!”

The ponies are not the only animals to visit Lister Hospital, with 14 therapy dogs also providing regular support to patients.

Jane Shaw, a patient experience project co-ordinator at East and North Hertfordshire Hospitals’ Charity and who organizes the visits, said: “We are proud of the work that the therapy animals carry out in our hospital, and also of the high standards of practice and hygiene to which they all perform.

Hospital patients are being treated by PONIES – who are trained to relieve stress and boost mental health. JAMES-LINSELL-CLARK/SWNS

“The benefit of animal interactions with humans has been noted since Florence Nightingale was nursing – it calms people down and helps them to feel better.

“We now understand the physiological basis behind this much better.

“Stroking a therapy dog or pony reduces the production of stress hormones, such as cortisol, which in turn reduces blood pressure and the feelings and physical symptoms of anxiety.

“It also works wonders for our staff as well!”

All pony visits are subject to hygiene and infection procedures, with detailed risk assessments approved by the relevant health and safety teams.

Jane added: “A lot of work and research went into preparing a case for the ponies to come into hospital and visit patients on wards.

“The ponies are healthy and in good condition, and are up to date with the necessary vaccinations and prophylactic treatments required to prevent common diseases and parasites.

“The ponies are always washed and groomed before they are bought to the hospital – they look spotless and smell beautiful!”

A spokesperson for East and North Hertfordshire Hospitals’ Charity said: “The charity hopes to fund many more visits as they bring so much joy and delight to patients and staff.

“A visit from the ponies increases morale and puts a smile on everyone’s face

“This project gives patients a positive experience while they are in hospital, contributing to the high standard of care which we aim to give.”

 

Produced in association with SWNS Talker