Horses and other animals are being used by a couple in Dorset to help young people with learning difficulties.
Sue Okey and David Lindsay who run Mobile Petz, train more than 100 animals, including horses, dogs, cats and rabbits, as well as more exotic species such as lizards and snakes.
They initiative began 20 years ago when they took mainly dogs and cats into nursing homes and hospitals for the elderly for companionship and to help relieve boredom.
In addition, the couple have now started working with the mentally ill and disabled over a range of ages to help them learn skills.
At Dorset’s Highbury College, which teaches young people with learning difficulties, the couple are using the animals to help the students with maths, English and communication skills.
“We are dealing with children who the school system hasn’t suited,” says Sue.
“They’ll switch off if you ask them to add something together, butif you say ‘let’s work out how much a dog needs to eat in a week’, they become much more interested.
“Many of the children from the inner cities have never been round large animals, but those who come to visit us end up handling the horses, Alfie, a five-year-old cob and Poppie, a 12-old Exmoor pony.
They put headcollars on them and lead them around and learn that horses are nice to be around.”
The couple use methods of training they have both used in the past – David from his work as a trainer of dolphins and killer whales at Windsor Safari Park and Sue as a lecturer in animal husbandry and behaviour.
The demand for Mobile Petz is growing.
“One old man with a mental illness who hardly talked, started telling everyone about his work with cows when we brought in a barn owl which reminded him of his days as a dairyman”, says Sue.
The couple, who also show Keeshonds and have qualified for this year’s Crufts, only receive expenses, plus support from Hill’s Canine for dog food, so rely mostly on donations.
For more information on Mobile Petz contact (tel: 01202 891690) or email firstname.lastname@example.org