Posted on November 2019 By James Southwell
It’s adorable and effective, Therapy Horses Scotland has found a way to bring smiles to the faces of sick and disabled children through an odd combination of mini horses and hospital wards.
As a married duo team, Elaine and John Sangster have been keeping their animals in West Lothian for the last 10 years and came to the genius idea of setting up the organisation just 4 years ago after a friend asked if they could bring their ponies to a rehabilitation care home. Since initially becoming a pair of pony pioneers, Elaine estimates they’ve done more than a whopping 650 visits and it isn’t strange for them to be asked to do revisits because of the amazingly positive reactions.
It’s fairly safe to say caring for the ponies has become second nature for the Sangster’s, there isn’t a second in the day when they aren’t surrounded by them and so much so that at one point they actually had to bring one along to their honeymoon as he was too young to be left alone. All of their passion and love for each individual pony goes a long way and as of current, they’re looking after a total of 15 but set a limit to only bringing out 2 per event. When it comes time to actually taking the ponies out, the 4 legged friends have to be trained and ready which will involve making sure they’re able to remain quiet and gentle at all times but perhaps one of the most important factors is the ponies height, a strict limit on size as to be able to fit into lifts for traveling up an down floors.
There’s never a resting moment for Elaine and John though, they constantly find themselves travelling and visiting all sorts of different places such as hospices, care homes, nursing homes, day care centres, sheltered housing facilities, and out of school clubs for disabled children. Elaine says they “make at least 6 visits per week and travel the length and breadth of Scotland” however all the exhaustion from travelling is made worth it by being able “to see the happy smiles”.
Elaine goes on to talk about just how much of a difference these interactions can truly make, describing a time when an elderly gentleman with dementia began to speak about his past. She stated ‘he had hardly said anything but once he spoke to the ponies, he began to talk about growing up on a farm with his dad surrounded by Clydesdale horses’ and whilst Clydesdale horses are generally much larger, just being around the majestic animals brought on a flood of memories. Finally finishing the story by saying this whole moving moment actually made his nurse cry, truly touching.