Tying in nicely with Mental Health Awareness Week is the Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Action Week, which runs from 17-23 May 2021.  Both Alzheimer’s Disease and all types of dementia disorders can be devastating disorders which affect not only the person with the disorder, but their wider family and friends groups.  Research is continuous, but as yet, there is no “cure”, but there is much that can be done to extend the quality of life of life for those with the disorders.

As part of Dementia Action Week, the well- known Riding For The Disabled charity is teaming up with the Alzheimer’s Society and Dementia Network  to extend nationwide their successful piloting of the “Tea With A Pony” following successful pilot projects which started with the Cotswold RDA group last year.

The pilot involved an afternoon at the group’s base at Cheltenham Racecourse, where people with dementia and their families had afternoon tea, met up with some of the ponies, watched a riding lesson and took part in a sensory walk.   We have links with the Magpie Riding Centre for the disabled (in very wide terms) in Norfolk and they are having a grand opening of their newly planted Sensory Garden in the summer, an idea that is gaining popularity.

By all accounts, the day was a great success. The Cotswold RDA manager, Claire Jenkins,  described visitors as “transformed” She said:

“The stories that have come from these sessions have been incredible, we had one resident whose father and grandfather had raced at Cheltenham as amateur jockeys; the resident went straight back to the excitement of that day. It’s using that pony connection – it’s so sensory; it’s the smell, the touch, all of it.”

Using horses and ponies as therapy is not a new idea.  You will hear riders and horse owners without any illnesses describing how their time with their horses is like therapy for them- it’s that connection with another living being who doesn’t judge;  a reason to get up in the morning as you have to care for your horse; the rhythms of mucking out and grooming; a bit of “me” time away from the stresses and strains of “ordinary” life, though the pandemic hasn’t helped.

Therapy horses and ponies are used in care homes, for those with social anxieties and lack of confidence and all sorts of physical and mental restrictions.  Riding For The Disabled is well known, but what is less well known is the range of activities they do and the huge variety of people they help blossom through interaction with equines.  They do far more than just riding.  The horses and the activities help with balance, speech, strength, confidence, social interaction and much, much more.  For many, it is genuinely the high spot of their week.

The development can also come as a revelation to families and carers when they see what can be unlocked in terms of potential.

The horses and ponies seem to have a sixth sense about their charges as well. Going back some years, I worked as a groom in my younger days for a family who had a son, S, with cerebral palsy.  I remember only too well his pony, Prince, who was a little devil (or worse) with me and anyone else trying to ride or handle him.  You could not have had a more saintly pony with S around or on board. He definitely knew he had to look after S and he did. Me? I could get lost!

As part of The Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Action Week #DAW2021, RDA will be hosting a Zoom conference to mark the national launch of Tea with a Pony

The conference will focus on the benefits of equine experiences for people living with Dementia, and also how RDA are using the Dementia Friends initiative.

If you would like to register for the conference, try this link:


Perhaps you’d like to organise a fund -raising yard tea party with your horses and send the proceeds to one of the charities to enable them to carry on funding their work?  The horses will undoubtedly want sugar lumps in their tea!


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