Ponies, privileged companions for children and the elderly

Animal mediation makes it possible to create connections between animals and people. This educational or therapeutic method has been practiced for several years with target groups such as children, the disabled or the elderly. Several experiments with ponies are regularly carried out in the Limousin.

The day is not over in Sereilhac. Tequila and Cookie, two Shetland ponies, leave the heat of their stall and embark on a rather special day at work.

An hour’s drive later, they are standing in the courtyard of the Ecole René Blanchot in the Bastide district of Limoges. And the least we can say is that they are highly anticipated.

Throughout the day, 96 children aged 2 to 6 can spend a privileged moment with the two ponies. An unprecedented experience for almost everyone who has never had the opportunity to get close to animals of this size.

For these children, physical contact with a creature that is different but endowed with sensitivity and empathy is a powerful moment that triggers intense emotions.

It’s not that easy to convince yourself that you can have an animal and take it with you wherever you want. It might not have occurred to them to try. But there they see that they are capable of it. And if we can do that, we can do many other things…

Karine Chazal, animal mediator at the Center Equestre des Seychas in Sereilhac

The program includes brushing, walking and above all stroking and big hugs. Sometimes also small confidences, entrusted to the hollow ear of a patient animal, and understanding, of necessity.

After months of confinement due to the pandemic, this skin-to-hair physical contact with the animal is a blessing.

In class, we noticed that the children would panic at the sight of the smallest insect. We often lost their attention. We told each other what was good for us when we were locked up was nature around us. So we had to do something with these kids who are on the asphalt all the time, who don’t leave their neighborhoods very often…

Mélanie Delage, teacher at the René Blanchot school in Limoges

Animal mediation sessions that the teachers want to perpetuate to tame fears, bring well-being and instill confidence in the children of this neighborhood school.

Goats, chickens, rabbits, ponies and the arrival of a dog are planned again in the coming months.

The ponies are also very successful in Ambazac.

Here the caresses are given by rather trembling hands and the embraces by gray temples and frowns. But the principle remains the same: to evoke physical contact between man and animal, both different but both alive and endowed with sensitivity.

For several years, the residents of the Muret geriatric center have been able to take advantage of the proximity of the Ambazac equestrian center, located a hundred meters below.

Again, these are ponies, chosen to evoke encounters and emotions in the residents, whose days often pass in slow motion.

The pony is very sensitive but neutral, non-judgmental, living in the present moment. He feels the emotions of the person close to him and places himself in a mirror relationship with them.

Emmanuelle Lafitte-Dry, Psychologist, Muret Geriatric Center in Ambazac

For Emmanuelle Lafitte-Dry, the psychologist at the Muret Geriatric Center, the benefits of exposure to horses for older people are amazing.

They can be felt as soon as the animal mediation sessions are prepared. The anticipation and organization of this privileged moment gives a goal, gives rhythm to a week and provokes motivation, movement and a confidence that is sometimes lacking in the residents of the establishment.

And when the time comes, physical contact with the ponies will sometimes rediscover physical and mental feelings that have been buried for a long time.

Nathalie Barot, the facility’s medical-psychological assistant, has found that people whose physical movement is usually restricted can detach themselves to approach and hug the animal, forgetting the walker for a few moments. We can then continue working with the occupational therapist.

Memories well up, especially for people from the countryside who have experienced this special bond with animals. And in general, it is an ability to communicate that is reappearing and that can sometimes make it possible to break the psychological isolation a little.

In Ambazac, the experiences after several years are therefore largely positive. In order to continue and deepen it, the psychologist therefore undertook to be trained in equine mediation at the French Equestrian Federation.

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