Mini Therapy Ponies Delight Elderly Residents with Surprise Visits to Retirement Homes and Hospitals (Exclusive)

Sarah Woodland and her six miniature Shetland ponies travel to meet elderly animal lovers around the United Kingdom

<p>Sarah Woodland</p> Sarah Woodland and the Dinky Ponies

Sarah Woodland

Sarah Woodland and the Dinky Ponies
  • Sarah Woodland's Dinky Ponies business brings six miniature Shetland ponies to meet retirement home and hospital residents around England

  • The Dinky Ponies have gone viral on Instagram with emotional videos of elderly animal lovers fawning over the therapy pets

  • Woodland's tiny horses also visit kids at special needs and mainstream schools and book private one-on-one sessions

Miniature Shetland ponies may stand less than 3 feet tall, but Sarah Woodland’s traveling team of tiny horses are raising spirits sky-high across the United Kingdom.

In 2021, lifelong equestrian Woodland formed the Dinky Ponies, an aptly named team of therapy ponies based in Oxfordshire.

The fun-sized herd started out attending outdoor children's parties and private visits around southern England, but Woodland needed a way to keep business from dropping off with the temperatures every winter.

Toward the end of the summer in 2022, she called a few local care homes to see if their elderly residents might want to meet the Dinky Ponies.

It didn’t take long before Woodland became inundated with bookings and inquiries requesting visits from the six trained and trusty steeds who make up the team: Poppy, Abbey, Charm, Tinks, Gracie and Georgie.

Today, the Dinky Ponies have expanded their services to hospitals, special needs schools, mainstream schools and more. Woodland tells PEOPLE she’s seen a range of “priceless” reactions during their visits, but most people are “extremely pleased” to meet the unexpected therapy pets.

<p>Sarah Woodland</p> Sarah Woodland on a visit with one of her Dinky Ponies

Sarah Woodland

Sarah Woodland on a visit with one of her Dinky Ponies

“A lot are very surprised, especially if they are in a room that you have to get to by [elevator], and they would never expect to see a pony come in their bedroom!” the former freelance horse groomer says, adding, “Some don’t believe the ponies are real. Some are scared occasionally and take a little bit of reassurance.”

Thanks to social media, the Dinky Ponies’ services have reached animal lovers far beyond the English towns they travel to. Woodland documents their meet-ups on social media, sharing some of the ponies’ most heartwarming interactions for her 124,000 follows on Instagram.

<p>Sarah Woodland</p> A Dinky Ponies visit

Sarah Woodland

A Dinky Ponies visit

In one post with over 130,000 likes, Poppy the pony instantly brought an especially reserved, often distant care home resident out of her shell. In the clip, Poppy can be seen comfortably resting her head on the elderly woman, whose eager delight is palpable in the footage.

“One of the things I love the most about my job is seeing the difference the ponies make,” Woodland wrote in the Instagram video’s caption. “Witnessing how their presence literally changes someone's whole entire mood, facial expressions and attitude. Watching their eyes light up, and the smiles form on their faces. When they go from sitting staring at the wall, to engaging, chatting and enjoying the ponies' company. I love sitting and watching the magic happen.”

<p>Sarah Woodland</p> Sarah Woodland with the Dinky Ponies

Sarah Woodland

Sarah Woodland with the Dinky Ponies

The Dinky Ponies’ fans and followers take to the comments to compliment Woodland’s initiative and her remarkably well-behaved ponies. After decades of experience working with horses, Woodland says training requires time, patience and love above all else.

“I never make them do anything they don’t want to do, so the visits are really governed by them and where they want to go,” she tells PEOPLE. "It's a lot to do with trust and them understanding I would never put them in danger."

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Read the original article on People.