The touch, sight and smell of a horse can have a profound effect on any person’s wellbeing. When it comes to society’s most vulnerable – the ill and the elderly living in hospitals or aged care facilities – visits from special therapy horses, who possess an innate ability to soothe and lift the soul, can be incredibly touching and heart-warming experiences.
One horse that made a name for himself as a therapy animal was “the people’s horse”, the late Subzero. The lovable former Clerk of the Course horse and Melbourne Cup winner was well known for his trips to schools, aged care facilities and hospices. Now, stepping up to the role are Chickaboo and Cameron — they may not be Melbourne Cup winners, but they are winning the hearts of aged care residents wherever they go.
ANNE SCOTT-VIRTUE & CHICKABOO
Everyone has had a challenging year due to Covid-19, however, many nursing home residents have had it particularly tough. With limits on visits, especially in Victoria, it has certainly been quite isolating.
Gisborne-based photographer Anne Scott-Virtue (White Shutter Photography) has had a quiet year business-wise due to Covid, but being able to spend some time at home with the horses means it hasn’t been all bad. Anne has her own thoroughbred that she rides, and earlier in the year she began leasing a pint-sized Shetland by the name of Chickaboo for her 14-month-old daughter, River.
Little Boo is house-trained and makes the odd visit inside to watch TV, and is incredibly calm and gentle with children. “She’s a really, really sweet pony. If my daughter goes anywhere near her, she just stands like a rock and doesn’t move a muscle. River pulls herself up on her fur and her mane, and she just stands still.”
“Her previous owner, who worked in aged care, told me she was a therapy pony and actually went to nursing homes. In between the two lockdowns here in Victoria, I had organised with the aged care facilities in our local area to take her out and do some therapy work — but that got put on hold with the second lockdown.”
Fortunately, residing in regional Victoria means that Anne has now been able to head out with Boo for their first visit to Warrina Aged Care in New Gisborne — which has fortunately remained Covid-free.
“They are just down the road from us, and I would drive past it almost on a daily basis. I’d see this lady visiting a family member, and she would sit out the front of a window with a camping chair and communicate with the other person on the inside through the window. It just broke my heart every time I drove past.
“I think the elderly have been dealt a real blow and have done it really tough. I mean, all of us in some form or another, we’ve done it tough, but I feel the elderly have had it particularly bad. I feel it can be quite a lonely existence in some cases.”