We know how important our pets are to us. They provide comfort, familiarity, and calmness, and it’s now recognised that they can make a huge difference to patients and families during traumatic times.
Our Nurse Consultant, Jo Fernandes, is a keen horsewoman and runs a horse and pony visiting service that helps bereaved children and Hospice inpatients for many years.
She explains: “What I have come to learn through taking my horses to visit Hospices and Care Homes is that their presence by the bedside or with a child who is grieving is equally if not more powerful. Horses have an intuitive ability to comfort those who are sick, dying, or grieving. It isn’t possible to describe what is happening when a horse visits exactly. Each experience is unique and profoundly moving.
I remember a grandmother who found it more bearable to say a final farewell to her young grandchildren after they had all spent time together in the garden with a pony. She was so reassured that her grandchildren would not remember the last time they saw her as weak and bedbound, rather as being “fun Nana,” playing with them, stroking the pony and spreading pink glitter on the pony’s neck and mane trying to make her into a magical unicorn. She may not have become a unicorn, but there was certainly magic in this experience.
I think of a child, unable to speak after the death of a parent until a pony was brought to the Hospice. This pony somehow enabled the child to start to grieve, wrapping their arms around the pony, saying, “I feel so sad..” and then quietly walking around crying and talking to the pony. The pony needed no explanation, had endless patience, and was a gentle companion at such a terrible time for this child.
I remember another child who was so frightened initially yet determined to overcome his fear of horses. He learned to trust the pony, and this was the start of him learning to trust life again after his bereavement.”
Lesley described her first visit from the horse, Rafa, when she was a patient at Michael Sobell Hospice as “one of the best days of her life.” It seems fitting that as a keen horsewoman herself who had rescued many badly treated horses in the past, she was given such a boost by being with Rafa. She was so happy and energised by the visit that she came back a month later to see the horses again.
Jo says: “I am delighted that my volunteer friends and I are currently training a young (just 4 years old) little pony “Whizz” to become a “Hospice” pony that will join the team made up of Rafa, Alfie, and Max.
It’s said, ‘There’s something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.’ I believe this to be certain. No matter what age, whether someone has a natural love of animals or not, the presence of a horse during challenging times is definitely “good.”