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How Park Palace Ponies are helping the recovery of young mental health patients at Alder Hey

1 year ago

How Park Palace Ponies are helping the recovery of young mental health patients at Alder Hey
Credit: Park Palace Ponies

Park Palace Ponies has teamed up with Alder Hey to give young patients the chance to spend time with ponies and help their mental health recovery.

Park Palace Ponies, the urban riding school in Dingle, has introduced hundreds of children to not just riding, but the joy of looking after and being around its ponies.

Now young people who are having treatment at Alder Hey’s new mental health facility Sunflower House will get regular visits from the ponies through the summer as part of a new programme.

The initiative is being supported by the British Equestrian Federation and Sport England, and will see two ponies make a weekly trip in their horse box to the grounds of Sunflower House.

Bridget Griffin, one of the founders of Park Palace Ponies, says the wellbeing benefits of being with ponies and horses, who have such patient, gentle natures, are well known.

She explains: “With Park Palace we’ve had several ideas that we’ve wanted to explore over the last six years and one of them has very much been around the positive effects on mental health and wellbeing that horses can bring.

Credit: Park Palace Ponies
Credit: Park Palace Ponies

“It’s that feeling that everyone who spends time around ponies and horses knows they get.

“We went to the British Equestrian Federation and put in a bid for funding which was accepted, so that means we can run a 15-week project at Alder Hey with the ponies going on site once a week for three hours and basically delivering some equine wellbeing sessions.

“I think the ponies have a very natural calming influence and we notice that as children build up that trust with the pony, it’s almost like everything calms right down and it allows them to just be themselves. It’s a build of self-confidence and a belief that if they can handle a pony, then they can do anything. That’s the message we get back a lot from children and parents.”

The sessions are open to in-patients at Sunflower House and young people having outpatient care, and research is being carried out alongside the programme looking into how horses and ponies can be an alternative therapy.

The first meeting with their new neigh-bours Moses and DJ was a trial run, involving young volunteers from the hospital, which Bridget says was a big success.

Although children won’t be riding, they will have an opportunity to walk the ponies around some of the grounds of Alder Hey’s Children’s Health Campus, to help groom them and enjoy spending time with them.

“For our first session, we wanted to see practically how it would work. Obviously, the hospital has a helipad so we wanted to know how the ponies would react if a helicopter came in. Thankfully one did while we were there so we got to see what would happen which, of course, was absolutely nothing because our ponies literally live in the middle of Dingle so they’re used to every single noise.

“There’s a grassy area so the ponies can mooch around, and it’s enclosed, quiet and private so it’s not interrupted. Usually wherever we go people come flocking to see them, but this is the one time when we don’t want that because the children need specific settings in order to get the most benefit.

“Our ponies are brilliant so this is the perfect job for them, to stand and be pampered and played with. All of them have got exactly the right personalities to do it.”

For more info on Park Palace Ponies click here.

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