In January 2012 the Elisabeth Svendsen Trust for Children and Donkeys officially merged into The Donkey Sanctuary. This means that the Sanctuary's activities now include donkey-assisted therapy for children with additional needs and therapeutic visits for elderly people in the local community from centres in Belfast, Birmingham, Ivybridge, Leeds, Manchester and Sidmouth.
The benefits of animals
The emotional and physical benefits of companion animals are now being established in psychiatric hospitals and elderly care units and there is well-researched evidence that spending time with animals can have a direct calming influence.
They are also a focus for a child's affection. Even the most disturbed, agitated or withdrawn child is more relaxed when stroking or talking to the donkeys. A confidence shared with a donkey has no chance of being revealed as it can be with a human.
Learning new skills
Learning new skills in a safe and caring environment means donkey assisted therapy is also fun. Setting simple, achievable goals at each riding session increases the motivation of the child, raising their self-esteem and confidence that is so often lacking in many of the children who first visit the centres. The act of riding also improves balance, co-ordination and dexterity for many children.
How we help
We bring enjoyment and pleasure into children's lives and give them the satisfaction that comes with the achievement of learning new skills.
The children who attend our Centres have a wide range of special needs and disabilities. These include communication and interaction difficulties such as autism; physical or sensory impairment; learning difficulties; and behavioural, emotional and social development needs. Our qualified Riding Instructors meet with parents or school staff to agree individual target areas which will be worked on during sessions. Children can also take part in grooming and barn management activities, to learn how to care for the donkeys.
Children are brought to the centres by their school or hospital, and once a month on a Saturday or during school holidays they can attend clubs with their families.
There is a fantastic variation within the content of each donkey assisted therapy session in order to enable it to meet the ever-changing demands and expectations that are being placed on the centres. To help with this responsibility, each indoor arena has an extensive array of equipment as its disposal.
The equipment is used in a variety of ways to perform tasks to aid development in areas such as fine motor skills, hand and eye co-ordination, body posture, colour, number, shape and symbol recognition, as well as speech and language improvement. All the children, even with the smallest achievement, grow more confident each session which helps to strengthen and improve their own self-esteem.
Working closely with school teachers, physiotherapists, speech and language departments, other professionals and parents, the centres' riding instructors, who each hold a British Horse Society Assistant Instructor qualification, are able to develop and deliver riding lessons.
How you can help
Become a donkey assisted therapy volunteer
Our Centres are always looking to recruit new volunteers to help them with the valuable work they do with children with special needs.
The Donkey Sanctuary currently has 6 specially designed Centres across the UK; these are based in Belfast, Birmingham, Ivybridge, Leeds, Manchester and Sidmouth. Each one has been set up to bring children together with donkeys and provide a fun, relaxed environment where they can benefit from donkey assisted therapy and interaction with animals.
Each Centre relies on its brilliant team of volunteers to help deliver its fantastic service; and without them they wouldn’t be able to reach as many people as they do. They are always looking for enthusiastic people to add to their teams and would love to hear from you if you can help in any way. Volunteers can give as much or as little of their time as they like, whether it’s a couple of hours or a set day each week, any help is much appreciated.
If you would like further details please contact the centre where you would like to volunteer directly. You can find all the contact information by clicking on the following links: