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 the presence of animals can have a direct calming influence.
They are also a focus for the 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 Even the most disturbed, agitated or withdrawn child is more relaxed when stroking or talking to the donkeys.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 in a safe and caring environment means riding therapy is also fun. Setting simple, achievable goals at each riding session increases the motivation of the child, raising their confidence and self esteem that is so often lacking in many of the children who first visit the centres. The act of riding also improves balance and dexterity for many children.
There are 14 attainment levels that the children work towards. From level one, which can include such activities as smiling and holding their head up, to level 14 where the children can steer the donkeys through obstacles, etc. Once a child has consistently completed the activities on their level, they get a certificate and go on to the next level.