A big-hearted former Blue Cross pony, who was part of a herd used for vaccine research in a former life, is now helping hundreds of unwell and disabled children. He has even inspired his owner to set up a riding school for children with disabilities and special needs.
Dillon, a 24-year-old chestnut pony was rehomed by paediatric chiropractor Alison Ramseier nearly 16 years ago and she first noticed his magic touch with children when her young patients would walk past his stable and light up with smiles.
“I had treated a few kids with disabilities and they couldn’t raise their hand,” explains Alison, who is a former international show jumper. “But the second they walked past Dillon’s stable, which was next to the chiropractic room, they would be able to. That’s when I first started to think about equine therapy.”
Some time later Dillon was invited to visit Worcester Children’s Hospital dressed as a reindeer to help Santa deliver presents – a trip that certified the pony’s incredible affinity with youngsters. He went on to become an annual celebrity visitor to the hospital.
“During his visits all sorts of children would come out – those excited and happy, and those wheelchair-bound, drips in arms and possibly experiencing their last Christmas,” Alison said.
“Dillon gave his all to every one of these kids. He was sometimes a little worried by the machinery, but he understood his job and still offered kisses and cuddles, bringing a smile to their face at Christmas, and a tear to all those watching.”
At the ripe old age of 24, Dillon has now hung up his hooves on the hospital visits as travelling is difficult for him – but he continues to help children at the equine therapy school he calls home in Staffordshire. He and his companion, fellow Blue Cross pony Sky, take on a range of roles at Parklands RDA (Riding for the Disabled Association), depending on the needs of the children they are helping.
They do therapeutic and sensory work for those with more advanced disabilities; this can involve the children feeling the horses and grooming to working with those on the autistic spectrum who are ready to learn a bit more responsibility – helping with mucking out, as well as handling the ponies.
“We have kids that can’t walk very well, but the movement in the pelvis that horse riding can bring means they build up strength, developing their core and finding their centre of balance. The movement, as well as the contact with the horse, also stimulates oxytocin (a hormone alleviating anxiety) in the brain which will also calm children,” Alison said.
The treatment has even been lauded by one patient’s hospital consultant, who said it had had a “huge benefit to overall tone and core stability” and had demonstrated how equine therapy could be used to help others with coordination and balance problems.
Sally Forskett, Horse Welfare Coordinator, said: “Alison is Dillon’s fourth – and final – Blue Cross home and he has thrived in her care over the years. It has been lovely to see the difference he has made to so many children’s lives. We are very pleased that Alison has agreed to take ownership of Dillon and he will stay with her for the rest of his days continuing to help children.”
When Dillon and Sky are not helping children, they play the role of ‘grandma and grandad’ to other younger ponies at Alison’s stables – they include cobs Ernie and Rummy, who have recently been rehomed from Blue Cross and are now in training for therapy work to follow in their footsteps.