The Rural Life

How animals are great for therapy

My therapy journey with my animals by Hannah Russell

Waking up every morning and walking down the yard towards the fields where the ponies, sheep, chickens, bunnies, and guinea pigs are, means I’m met with a lot of animal noises. Baas from the sheep, whinnies for the horses and clucking from the hens, it’s always a lovely feeling to wake up to that someone who wants to see you and greet you for their breakfast.

For many years animals have been used for therapy but more so in the last year. Many of us have come to realise how much our animals mean to us and how much comfort they can provide on the darkest days. During lockdown around the world, we found enjoyment from going on walks with our dogs, riding our ponies, sitting with the rabbits, feeding the chickens and the rest. 

Animals have so much personality and character and can offer us endless enjoyment. If you talk to them, they will talk to you in their own way, and you will get to know each other creating a partnership that lasts a lifetime.

I’ve come to understand how much animals can do for us and how important it is to listen to them, they are the greatest teachers. I first began to understand this when ‘Little Alf’ my 28-inch miniature Shetland came to live with me in 2012. I was at a lull of what the future held at 16 years old and was undergoing a year off college after having treatment for an injury. I didn’t have much to do during the daytime so spent my days with Alf, he was there every day when nobody else was. He needed care and attention and at such a young age he provided me with so much enjoyment due to his cheeky character, which lead to me to start a blog about him. This gave me a new focus and increased my motivation to do something new, at that point in my life I was experiencing high levels of stress. With Little Alf by my side, things got better one step at a time.

During the last year, I’ve become more open about how animals are great for therapy. In the last 12 months I had an operation for Sarcoma cancer and underwent treatment with radiotherapy. Once I began to feel a lot better, I got two ‘Valais’ black nose sheep which I have always wanted and they have kept me busy for the last 6 months. I never knew how much personality sheep had and they’ve spent endless hours entertaining me in the field. You certainly can’t feel low when they are licking your face or asking for a cuddle!

Animals never fail to brighten our days or cheer us up when we need them.

I spend a lot of my time clicker training the ponies as well as the sheep which allows me to understand their behaviour and communicate with them. I find it in a way that allows me to speak to them. Paddy my 14hh pony is a rescue pony, he is blind in his left eye was very shy and withdrawn when he came to live with me. He was nervous about noises around him, but through clicker training, patience, and time we’ve created a great level of trust and understanding.

by Hannah Russell