Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) is raising awareness of the power of horses to help people living with Dementia. During Dementia Action Week (16-22 May), the charity will be aiming to run as many ‘Tea with a Pony’ sessions as possible at its member groups throughout the UK.

Tea With a Pony is an RDA activity focussing on multisensory experiences with RDA horses and ponies. The charity launched the new experience in response to the growing number of people living with dementia and similar conditions. It has since seen great success, with 31 RDA groups running sessions within the first year.

Tea With a Pony offers the opportunity to engage with horses and ponies in a safe and secure environment. The sessions typically involve tea and cake followed by watching a riding lesson or having an opportunity to stroke or brush the ponies. Participants often come from their care home, with some individuals also coming with family and friends.

Multisensory experiences like Tea With a Pony have been shown to help reduce anxiety and agitation in those who live with dementia. Lorna Kook, who is a retired occupational therapist with more than 30 years' experience, has been instrumental in the development the Tea With a Pony initiative.

“Sadly, any dementia diagnosis is a palliative diagnosis, which means that every single day matters, and it means that whatever we can do to add meaning to the day for the person who is living with dementia, we should do,” says Lorna. Sessions engage senses like touch, smell and sound, and can often prompt early memories and physical engagement, such as waving or speech.

Tea With a Pony is beneficial for carers and family members too. “Sessions help people living with dementia to engage with past experiences, opening a window to understanding the real person, rather than just somebody living with dementia.” Explains Lorna. “It gives the carers something else to talk about when they get back to the care home. It’s another way of engaging.”

During Dementia Action Week, several RDA groups will be hosting Tea With a Pony sessions across the UK. The RDA National Training Centre also plans on running an open day on Thursday 19th in partnership with Creative Mojo, which offers craft experiences for the elderly and adults with disabilities and mental health concerns and specialises in working with people living with dementia. The open day will also mark the one year anniversary of the launch of Tea With a Pony.

Learn more about the RDA and how to support them in their important work with disabled people by visiting their website www.rda.org.uk

Dementia Action Week is a campaign run by the Alzheimer's Society to encourage people to ‘act on dementia’.

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