Black and white pony Bandit canters towards the camera surrounded by trees

One-eyed pony gives therapy to children

“Bandit makes me feel really calm. If I feel sad, then I can go to him,” says 15-year-old Ashlee.

“He makes me very happy and if I’m anxious I know I can go and give Bandit a cuddle and he’ll calm me down.”

The teenager has spent the past few months connecting with Blue Cross pony Bandit, along with other youngsters in need of support.

Black and white pony Bandit is held by a teenage girl with long red hair
Bandit provides equine therapy for young people who need emotional support

The gentle native pony has overcome his own challenges to bring a sense of peace to those around him.

At just six months old, Bandit had a life-changing injury to his eye.

The little piebald foal had lacerated his cornea and was facing an uncertain future.

But thanks to the work of Blue Cross and other charities, Bandit is now helping give therapy to children who’ve also faced struggles.

Black and white pony Bandit grazes in a field next to a teenage girl
Bandit's own struggles help young people to relate to him

For Ashlee, the support that Bandit gives on a daily basis is life-changing.

“If I’ve had a bad day, I’ll go and give Bandit some treats and he’ll stand there, kissing me and cuddling me,” she reveals.

“He just makes my bad day feel better.”

Spending almost six months in Blue Cross care, Bandit needed plenty of love and attention from the horse welfare team at our Rolleston site to help him regain his confidence.

Black and white pony Bandit is shown with the left side of his face shaved before having his eye removed
Bandit suffered an eye injury

The black and white pony was just a foal when he came to us last year, but he’d already been through so much trauma.

Bandit was taken in by local charity, The Next Chapter Rescue and Rehoming, following his painful injury.

A crowdfunding campaign raised enough cash for vet treatment to remove his eye, but Bandit was faced with more than just physical recovery.

The 10HH mini cob needed more time to adjust because of having to cope with the pain and trauma of the eye injury, having it treated and getting used to his new vision, explains Alison Bennetts-Brown, Horse Welfare Assistant at Blue Cross Rolleston.

Our team took in Bandit to “give him the time, care and training that he would need after the initial setback with the eye”, she adds.

Being partnered with a group of older ponies helped Bandit to settle in and gain confidence.

The coming months meant slow and careful training to get Bandit used to wearing a headcollar, having his legs and feet handled, and familiarising him with unusual surfaces and new places, ready for a new home.

A black and white pony is held by a Blue Cross team member
Blue Cross worked with Bandit to build his confidence

Alison adds that all the care helped his confidence grow so he became “affectionate and not at all the shy nervous little boy who turned up”.

“Bandit is a very quick learner, resilient and full of character, who doesn’t let anything hold him back in life,” she explains.

It wasn’t long before Bandit’s new-found mojo bagged him new admirers, who were searching for a pony who could give much-needed therapy to children and young people needing their own boost in confidence.

After 173 days with Blue Cross, Bandit found his forever home, alongside fellow rescue pony Sunny.

Bandit has settled into life at his new home in Staffordshire, where he provides non-ridden equine assisted therapy to youngsters aged six to 17 years.

Developing a strong bond with the ponies has fostered a true sense of “empathy” among the children, says Louise Fresson, who is caring for Bandit in his new home alongside fellow horse lover and trained equine assisted learning practitioner Sandra Oulsnam.

“We know the benefits that equine [therapy] has on anyone’s mental health,” she explains. 

“Even grooming or just sitting here for half an hour and putting a plait into a pony’s mane is mindfulness which creates relaxation.

“It was a brilliant choice rescuing them from Blue Cross because the young people can relate that the ponies have had trauma themselves.”

Black and white pony Bandit is groomed by a boy in a stableyard
Grooming helps Bandit's new friends to relax

The progress made by both Bandit and the young people he supports has been enormous.

“Bandit never wanted people on his blind side before but now he’ll have people on either side. He has made huge progress,” adds Sandra.

“Bandit will play a big part in young people’s lives as the therapy is all about learning and connecting their behaviours and emotions.

“We chose Bandit on purpose because he had such a difficult background, we thought it would resonate with the young people. 

“Bandit’s story shows we can be different and face challenges but still adapt and have a good life.”

Black and white pony Bandit gallops gleefully through a field followed by a black pony
Bandit can enjoy his new home alongside pony pal Sunny

— Page last updated 22/05/2024