THE CONSERVATORY came alive with smiles, laughter and talk as miniature Shetland ponies Whizzie and Peanut came to visit Chollacott Nursing Home in Whitchurch, writes Guy Boswell.

The two therapy ponies came with owner Charlotte Pine, who runs Dartmoor Carriages, at Shaugh Prior, to give the residents a special treat.

Barbara Kader, the nursing home manager, said: “This has been wonderful for our residents. We’re getting back to organising events and visits that had been put on hold during covid and it’s only now that recently we’ve able to invite families to join in events because of being extra careful since covid.

“The residents have been looking forward so much to the ponies and it’s really good to see them enjoying stroking and talking to them. As therapy animals, they’ve been welcomed and successful. Many residents who would never have come out of their rooms or come to any events have come to the lounge and being with the ponies has relaxed them. They are tactile and very still and quiet. Our residents find peace and relaxation through this simple visit. It’s very rewarding for us as staff also. A bonus is that one pony was also taken on individual room visits for those who cannot leave their beds. We treat all our residents as a family because we’re all in their home and the pony visits and other events we put on enhances their lives here. They can’t do all the things they’d like to do and we don’t want them to miss out.”

Barbara Rider had a visit to her bedroom by Peanut and stroked him which brought back memories of riding ponies with her daughter on Dartmoor and on the beach: “We went very slowly, not riding fast. It’s lovely to see the pony.” Cynthia Clements was visited by her husband Albert who brought her little dog to sit in her lap while she stroked the ponies. She said: “I like dogs, so it’s nice to see the ponies here. It cheers us up if we feel sad.”

Josie Richards lives nearby and comes to see husband David daily: “This is a really lovely home. They put on events which makes lots of them join in and talk to each other, instead of staying in their rooms. Socialising helps everyone enjoy themselves.”

Dorothy Nicholls, 85, a former district nurse midwife, said: “I can’t move much and have to spend most of my life in a wheelchair, so it means a lot when we have special visits like the ponies. It’s something different and fun.”

Dhimo Niculesu (aided by his wife Flavia) is an energetic events coordinator who staged the pony visit along with previous Remembrance, Wimbledon, Easter, Pancake and Valentine’s Day themed days as well as day trips in the home’s minibus.

He said: “We do everything here based on consultation with the families of residents. I programme events if there is support for the idea, then I try to take into account individuals’ needs and tastes. They are all different in terms of what they like and their long-term conditions. If they have dementia, for instance and I find out from their families they used to love cooking, then I involve them in making pancakes perhaps. It can reawaken happy memories of cooking for their families. They might have to relearn some skills, which I can show them, but it’s all therapeutic and stimulates their brains and makes them more responsive. In the same way, with the ponies some residents have remembered riding ponies at the seaside. We have a regular coffee morning and that’s what the pony visit is part of. I’ve never seen so many people in our conservatory and it’s been a happy time for everyone.”

Charlotte said: “I’ve only recently started with therapy visits and it’s been so popular. I take Whizzie, Peanut or Pepper to hospitals, nursing and care homes and hospices. People who are non-verbal or just don’t talk to anyone for weeks sometimes come out and start talking to the ponies. It’s good for stimulation and morale.”