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Animals Assisted Rehabilitation

In a rural community, animals are often part of people's everyday life and yet they are often banned from hospital grounds. Research has shown significant benefits to healing and rehabilitation when animals are integrated into care. The inclusion of larger animals like donkeys also includes a greater amount of physical activity and helps to connect people to the green spaces around them

Read comments 14
  • Idea
  • 2018

Meet the team: Bronllys Animal Assisted Rehabilitation Service (BAA-RS)


  • Andrew Colwill, Physiotherapist - Pain and Fatigue Management
  • Sarah Cronin, Development Manager - Supported Self Management
  • Joanne Price, Office Manager

This project focuses on integrating the natural world into the process of rehabilitation and uses the natural resources which are abundant in Mid Wales to promote health and wellbeing. A variety of animals will be used in a goal focused intervention. This isn’t just stroking a donkey because that is a nice thing to do, it is using interactions with animals as a supportive tool in helping individuals improve their confidence, increase their activity and learn essential communication skills.

Instead of attending a pain and fatigue management programme which is based indoors, participants will be able to opt join a programme that delivers the same information but instead of activities based in a gym they will be able to be active in the open air by joining in with a variety of animal care activities. We have chosen donkeys as our main animal as they tend to be more predictable and are also highly intuitive to people’s moods.

In addition to physical activity, participants in the new programme will be guided to use their interactions with the animals as a tool for reflecting on their own communication style, their own approach to their life and their goals for the future. Animal care activities are easily broken down into discrete tasks which will also help individuals learn activity management approaches.

When working with animals like donkeys the impact of one’s own behaviour becomes apparent very quickly and it is therefore a great way to learn to do things differently. For instance, if you do not communicate clearly and unambiguously what you want the donkey to do then it will just stand still and refuse to move. Donkeys aren’t stubborn as they are often portrayed but they do like clear instruction.

The psychological benefits of working with animals are also well known. Research has shown that grooming an animal leads to the release of oxytocin which is a key feel good hormone and there is also evidence that people who have regular contact with animals have greater resilience when dealing with the ups and downs of everyday life.

How you can contribute

  • Support our idea
  • Ideas of different settings where this approach could be used
  • Knowledge of supporting research
  • Examples of similar schemes to learn from
  • Ideas to overcome barriers


  1. I think this is a great idea and has been used for a long time through the Riding for Disabled Association (albeit with horses). If you haven't already linked up with them, it would be well worth it as they have a strong track record of doing exactly with physical and learning disabilities, mental health issues etc. I'm sure they would be happy to give you advice and guidance as well as share ideas on settings and activities.

    1. Hi Usha,

      Thanks for the suggestion. One of my colleagues has done some work with them in the past and we will re-establish links.


  2. I think using animals to support rehabilitation is a great idea, not to mention the wellbeing benefits of this! In North London, we have Katie the dog supporting patients to increase range of movement etc. - there may be something to learn here?

    1. Hi Patricia,

      That is a really interesting story. We are also considering adding dogs into the mix here so it is always interesting to see how it is working elsewhere. I think they may also have a benefit for staff stress too.

      Best wishes,


  3. Guest

    grant evans 4 years, 3 months ago

    Hi Owen

    What a great idea, could you partner with the Donkey Sanctuary that is looking for loving homes for many donkeys?

    1. Hi Grant,

      As ever great minds think alike. The donkeys in the picture above, Ffion and Saskatoon, are both from the Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth who have worked with us to select animals who are suitable for the work we are intending to do. They have been very helpful.

      Best wishes,


  4. Hi there

    I am also very supportive of this idea and I have some experience to share of this type of work. I am Chair of Trustees of Swansea Community Farm, we have ben established since 1998 and we enable a wide range of people , many with health problems and a range of disabilities come to volunteer looking after our farm animals , grow and cook healthy food and do conservation work. Our focus is improving wellbeing through engaging in nature and creating a sense of community.

    we have also recently enabled a group of vulnerable young people to achieve an OCN in equine behaviour partly through looking after donkeys !

    you can get an idea of what we do via our website and you tube channels


    There is also a movement called Care Farming and the University of Essex did an evidence review for them in 2008 on the impact of care farming on health and wellbeing. Happy to share the pdf


    Social Farms & Gardens is a new organisation created as a result of the merger between the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, and Care Farming UK.  They should  have some useful guidance and networks for you.

    happy to share our experience of this work

    best wishes






    1. Hi Nerys,

      Great to know people are doing similar work in the area. We would love to come and visit if possible to learn more about your experiences so I will send you an email via the NHS Wales email system.

      Best wishes,


  5. Hi Clare and Owen. Very happy to see the donkeys here! Although I realise you're identifying this offer as rehabilitation rather than therapy, I thought I'd share a link to the organisation I mentioned previously: Sirona Therapeutic Horsemanship in Devon ( Also, this might seem like a slightly odd connection, but have you seen PARO, the therapeutic robotic seal that's used in hospitals? and Can I ask what the bigger picture is - who will the programme reach and are you planning to share your learning further afield, for example? Hawys

    1. Hi Hawys,

      Thanks for the links we will certainly follow them up. The robot seals sound fascinating!

      Best wishes,


  6. Owen, We have a similar scheme in Worcestershire but with plants not donkeys. It had some funding issues but is now ok. See

    Regards Tom

    1. Hi Tom,

      That looks like a great scheme. We have a garden centre just up the road so we may have to have a chat with them. Thanks for sharing this - lots of wonderful ideas.

      Best wishes,


  7. Hi Hannah,

    Thanks for your comment. We certainly hope to address issues of anxiety and depression with this project although the focus will be on improving physical, psychological and social functioning. We have purposefully called it animal assisted rehabilitation rather than therapy to differentiate it from some of the more alternative approaches. Will have a look at the HHPDA website and would welcome any other links anyone else has.


  8. Hello!

    At Peerfest 2017, I met Zeb from Horses Helping People with Depression and Anxiety ( - the work they are trying to do seems well aligned with this project and I thought might be able to learn more from each other?

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