As Leo, Harry and Larry board the lift to travel to the next floor, the sight draws a number of amused smiles.
After all, it's not every day three Shetland ponies visit a Sheffield care home – and even less . frequently do they use a lift to travel between floors. But the hairy trio has an important job to do. They’re here to visit with the care home’s residents - including those restricted to their beds on the floors above.
With them are their ‘crew' from Smile at Lightwood, an initiative run by a group of good friends from Mansion House Farm, on Lightwood Lane in south Sheffield.
Horse lovers and pals, Kay Green, Kathy Elliss Whitham, and Lynn Jeffery, shared a dream to be able to help humans with pony power, launching the initiative in 2014. In 2015, after procuring the farm, six miniature Shetland ponies came to live at the farm, and have since been in training for their careers as therapy ponies, both at sessions run from the farm itself, and out in the local community.
Kay said: “Spending time with ponies and horses has many benefits for a variety of physical and emotional conditions. Vulnerable adults and children, who can sometimes find it difficult to communicate, seem to respond extremely well.”
“Pony therapy sessions, such as the kind we host in venues across the region, have been proven to reduce stress and anxiety levels, encourage communication between fellow patients and between guests and care home staff, increasing wellbeing through participation in a fun and stress free activity, providing a tangible connection with nature and animals, and encouraging guests to develop enthusiasm for an enjoyable experience.”
Most recently the specially trained animals visited three homes operated by the Fulwood-based Silver Healthcare – Fulwood Lodge, Rosebank, and Leahyrst homes – working with residents living with dementia in the city.
Staff and relatives from the homes have since spoken of how encouraged they were by the therapeutic and calming effect the visit had on residents.
Roy Young, managing director of Silver Healthcare, said: “The visit I witnessed counts as one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had in all my decades of operating care homes.
“Several residents even burst into tears – they was visibly moved by the experience and the calmness of the animals and there couldn’t have been a better way to celebrate the forthcoming birthday of one of our residents, a 92-year-old Maria Deakin.”
Kay, a qualified British Horse Society instructor with over 40 years’ experience, added: “I come from a farming family and was on ponies before I could walk.
“These wonderful ponies enjoy human presence and interaction, and I’ve witnessed firsthand the profound impact they can have on people; and not just those living with dementia. It's the whole holistic approach, it resonates with people in every walk of life, I’ve seen it time and time again, they’re incredible creatures.”
Smile at Lightwood has already visited dozens of care home across South Yorkshire, and is keen to visit more.
Kay says: "The concept for the initiative came from the three of us, all horse lovers, who all have very lovely lives, and lovely families, and were keen to give something back. We’re out semi-regularly throughout the year already, but we'd like to do so much more.”
The group is also hoping to become a registered charity in 2019 and is keen to offer the service, which there is currently a small charge for, for free to venues in South Yorkshire.
“We want this to be the year this service really gets going,” Kay adds.
“We’ve seen so much benefit to people – from the elderly, to children at Bluebell Wood hospice – and we’re keen to expand this.”
Each pony therapy session can be tailored to the needs of the specific venue or individual guests, with the ponies travelling out, or people arranging to visit the farm.