Donkey Assisted Therapy for Children
The Donkey Sanctuary’s Donkey Assisted Therapy Centres provide unique donkey riding therapy to children with special needs and disabilities and therapeutic visits for adults in care homes and hospices.
by Claudia Foxcroft
Every year, approximately 46,000 children arrive at The Donkey Sanctuary centres in Belfast, Birmingham, Ivybridge, Leeds, Manchester and Sidmouth from their schools, hospices or homes to find colorful, fully equipped play areas, outdoor play areas and gardens where they can relax while waiting for their donkey therapy ride in the adjoining indoor arena.
The Donkey Sanctuary’s Donkey Assisted Therapy in Belfast. Photo credit The Donkey Sanctuary.
The riding sessions are given under qualified supervision and vary greatly with the needs of the children who come to the centres. The needs range from learning or behavioral difficulties, autism, Down’s syndrome or visual impairment to those with severe physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy.
The Donkey Sanctuary’s Donkey Assisted Therapy in Leeds. Photo credit The Donkey Sanctuary.
For some children it may be that a quiet ride of 10 minutes is plenty, while others may spend some of their time grooming and stroking the donkeys. They are encouraged to be independent and their confidence is raised by a lesson structured around correct riding principles, including taking turns to ride and following instructions.
The Donkey Sanctuary’s Donkey Assisted Therapy for Children in Sidmouth. Photo credit The Donkey Sanctuary.
Guiding the donkey to certain pictures, letters, numbers and symbols in the arena build up the children’s riding skills, and they are encouraged to talk to the donkeys, to greet and thank them, to recognize them and to use their names.
Video of a new little foal and first-time mom Honey from The Donkey Sanctuary.
Watch a heartwarming video to learn about The Donkey Sanctuary's work in other parts of the world. In the above, a child at the Don Orione orphanage in Bucharest, Romania is profiled.
The act of riding improves balance and helps to strengthen muscles and core stability. Through interaction both with people and donkeys, their vocabulary is stimulated, and self-esteem and confidence are boosted for all the children, whatever their needs. The centres also offer rides in wheelchair-accessible donkey carts for children who are not able to ride on the donkeys.
The Donkey Sanctuary’s Donkey Assisted Therapy for kids in Ivybridge. Photo credit The Donkey Sanctuary.
Each of our six UK Donkey Assisted Therapy centres also takes donkeys out to the local community to visit adults in nursing homes, residential homes and hospices. Donkeys are affectionate creatures and enjoy interacting with humans and are comfortable entering a lounge or bedroom to meet residents in their chairs or beds. The donkeys enjoy being stroked, talked to and even sung to. Their visits evoke wonderful memories and often spark conversation among the residents which continue long after the donkeys have left.
Learn more about The Donkey Sanctuary’s Donkey Assisted Therapy centres at www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/riding-therapy. The Donkey Sanctuary is a UK based charity working worldwide to improve conditions for donkeys and mules.