Kelly Baker, founder of Danny Donkey & Pals, was previously Head Girl at the Diamond Centre for Disabled Riders and also managed a centre providing equine-assisted therapy for people with disabilities. During this time it was apparent that transporting large numbers of pupils from schools could be problematic. Kelly decided to set up a mobile service, taking donkeys into schools to run sessions, thus relieving them of the transport burden and allowing more pupils to have access to the benefits the animals bring.
Every session is tailored to each school’s needs. We can cater for hundreds of pupils and stay as long as required. The donkeys can work inside or out, meaning that weather isn’t an issue. All of our therapy sessions are relaxed and fun. Our donkeys have worked with:
- People with Learning Disabilities (from mild to severe), including ASD
- Those with seizure, developmental and anxiety disorders
- People with challenging behaviour
- Children and adults with visual and hearing impairments
- People with Mental Health Issues
- Those with physical disabilities including Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Brain Injuries & Cerebral Palsy
- People with low self-esteem and low confidence
Donkey-assisted therapy is an incredibly sensory experience, engaging vision, hearing, touch and smell. For the very disabled, just touching the donkeys can have a positive effect. They are gentle enough to be led by even the frailest children and are happy to slowly walk beside wheelchairs, giving wheelchair-bound people the freedom to take them for a walk too. Children under 52kg can ride the donkeys and the benefits are huge, including improving balance, co-ordination and strength. The rocking motion mimics the natural movement of the pelvis during walking and trains the body to move in the correct way, whilst also building muscle.
Our ridden therapy sessions can be as comprehensive or as basic as required. Some children may need support from several adults surrounding the donkey and will just take a few steps. Others play games, posting letters, weaving in and out of cones and balancing eggs on spoons. All of our donkeys are trained to remain calm and steady in all situations and we use saddles with handles on to provide stability.
Those with speech impediments tend to communicate more easily with non-judgmental animals than they do with other people. In several cases, children who have been reluctant to communicate with people are happy to chat freely to a donkey after spending some time with it and the benefits are becoming more widely acknowledged: "Equine facilitated psychotherapy with children with autism and Down’s syndrome has, in many cases, been effective particularly in the areas of speech and fine/gross motor skills improvement (Mallon, 1992)."
Grooming and feeding the donkeys teaches a sense of responsibility and also improves fine motor skills and hand to eye co-ordination whilst being a fun, sensory experience. All of our donkeys wear a set of bells to provide further stimulation and allow visually impaired people to identify where they are.
Dennis and Andy take care of some precious cargo
Josh and his new friend head off on an adventure
A very sensory visit to the Royal School for the Blind
"Our 'Donkey Therapy Day' was a truly multi-sensory experience for our children, who all have severe visual impairments along with both learning and physical disabilities. The moment the donkeys arrived there was an explosion of sensory stimuli - amazing smells, bells which jingled and the tactile experience. The donkeys were incredibly tolerant and took it all in their stride. Some children were able to have a ride and the smiles of everyone were evidence of a wonderful donkey day!"
Mr J.P. Byrne OBE, Headmaster, Royal School For The Blind
"Thank you so much for bringing the donkeys to school. They were total stars - and so popular that the children are still talking about them three weeks later. We would love to have you back again!"
Chesnut Lodge Special School, Widnes