Therapy ponies bring joy to patients and staff at Sue Ryder Hospice near Bedford

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The clip-clop of tiny hooves could be heard at Sue Ryder St John’s Hospice in Moggerhanger last week as two special guests from Keysoe International - and their Cuddle Therapy Ponies Teddy and Mouse - visited patients and staff.

Those being cared for at the hospice, as well as their family and Sue Ryder staff, could pet, brush, and interact with the pair. An experience that has been shown to decrease stress, reduce anxiety, and encourage socialisation.

The visit was part of Keysoe International’s Community Interest Company the Keysoe Cuddle Therapy Ponies, which aims to bring joy and comfort to those in hospices, hospitals, and care homes through these special pony encounters.

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Sarah Woodhouse, 54, from Biggleswade, had been receiving care at the Moggerhanger Sue Ryder Hospice for the last ten days. She was due to go home the day the ponies visited but shared her joy of being able to capture a moment with them:

Hospice patient Sarah Woodhouse with one of the therapy poniesHospice patient Sarah Woodhouse with one of the therapy ponies
Hospice patient Sarah Woodhouse with one of the therapy ponies

“I have cancer at the bottom of my spine and in my liver. I was in horrendous pain and was feeling so overwhelmed until I came to the hospice.

“It was brilliant to see the ponies. I have never had anything like that before. I was horse mad when I was a kid, so it was nice. Animals lift your spirits; it gave me such a boost seeing them.

“They have been fantastic here at the hospice. They have time for you, I couldn’t have wished for a better stay,” added Sarah.

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It was Keysoe Cuddle Therapy Ponies staff member, Kaylea Jackson, who nominated Sue Ryder St John’s Hospice as part of the organisation’s community give-back scheme after her father received incredible care there before he died from pancreatic cancer in November 2019.

Pony handlers from Keysoe Cuddle Therapy Ponies with Mouse and TeddyPony handlers from Keysoe Cuddle Therapy Ponies with Mouse and Teddy
Pony handlers from Keysoe Cuddle Therapy Ponies with Mouse and Teddy

Kaylea couldn’t visit on the day but Frances Murray, Head of Education and Animal Welfare at Keysoe International was there to support the ponies and to ensure that Kaylea’s wishes were fulfilled.

Frances said: “The visit was heartwarming for all involved. I sent pictures to Kaylea. She was delighted and touched that we had been and knows what a treat it will have been for everyone.

“Each pony spent time with the patients in the beautiful surroundings and brought joy and positivity wherever they went. It was lovely to meet so many hospice staff too, who work tirelessly to provide the most amazing, individualised support and around-the-clock care.

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“The team felt privileged to be able to attend and said they have the best job in the world – which I agree with.

“The ponies can bring such joy in difficult times. They are non-judgmental, great listeners, and just the sweetest to have around and simply stroke or talk to. We are very much looking forward to visiting again in the future!”

Jacqui Ackroyd, ward manager at Sue Ryder St John’s Hospice, added: “Pet therapy at the hospice is invaluable because whatever the patient is going through it takes them away from it all for a while.

“It can help with motor skills, to bring back memories and with conversation. What I have witnessed today from the patients you can’t replace. We have had goats and fish, plus dogs Milly and Mable visit the hospice, but we have never had ponies before.

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“One patient said to me ‘I can’t tell you what it has meant to me today'. Thank you to Keysoe and Kaylea for nominating our hospice. It’s been so special,” she added.

Keysoe International will be further supporting the palliative and bereavement support charity as they host the next Sue Ryder Grief Kind Space in Bedfordshire. The new space will open on Tuesday,l June 25, 10am to noon, offering free and impartial peer-to-peer bereavement support.

To find out more about Sue Ryder St John’s Hospice visit sueryder.org/stjohns

To find out more about Keysoe International visit keysoe.com

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Sue Ryder is currently looking for Grief Kind volunteers for the new space at Keysoe International, email [email protected] or visit sueryder.org/GKVolunteer to register your interest.

For details and locations of existing Sue Ryder Grief Kind Spaces visit www.sueryder.org/Spaces.