Therapy animals have been proven to help children and young adults in many ways. Improvements in self – esteem and confidence, benefits to mental health and well-being, the ability to learn to trust, reduction of fears and anxieties to name a few. A therapy animal can elicit a respect for boundaries, and an ability to overcome challenges and develop interpersonal skills. The non-verbal communication between a pony and a person is a truly magical interaction which is the key to the above happening. Animals just being near them, to look at, or touch, can just make them feel calm and happy.

Marty, the miniature Shetland pony from Shropshire Pony Parties is visiting Severndale initially up to February half term, as we pilot this exciting intervention with a group of our more complex Lower Primary pupils. Following the progress we saw from the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) sessions, that all of our Lower school pupils benefit from, we have been very keen to offer a similar sensory enrichment experience within the Academy. We are very excited to welcome Marty, and look forward to him attending the Academy.

During our visits from Marty, the pupils have enjoyed a range of sensory experiences. The majority of pupils have been very keen to stroke him, and were happy to approach him for a closer look, even if they are not yet ready to feel his fur. Most of the pupils have heard him, and responded with giggles and interest when he has given them a little whinny. This has been a lovely sound from within the classroom. Some of the pupils have explored him not only through touch, but also smell, showing us that they have recognized that there is a difference between him and the usual scents around school. It has been exciting to see that, although he is a very small pony, the pupils appear to be aware that a pony is to be sat astride! A clear transfer of memory skills from their sessions with the RDA, or from experience outside of school. We are learning that because he is so small, that he is for enjoying at a sensory hands on level, not a legs on level! We have been very excited to see the communication between the pupils and staff around this understanding, with clear gestures, vocalisations and near demonstrations.