When Dillon instinctively comforted a terminally ill child whose dying wish was to meet a pony, it was clear that there was something very special about him.
Since then, the former Blue Cross pony has gone onto help hundreds of youngsters – and even inspired his owner to set up a dedicated riding school for children with disabilities and special needs.
Dillon, 24, was rehomed by paediatric chiropractor Alison Ramseier nearly 16 years ago and she first noticed his magic touch with children when her young patients would walk past his stable and light up.
“I had treated a few kids with disabilities and they couldn’t raise their hand, but the second they walked past Dillon’s stable, which was next to the chiropractic room, they would be able to. That’s when I first started to think about equine therapy,” she said.
Then, about seven years ago, Dillon, who started life as part of a herd used for animal vaccine research, was invited to visit to Worcester Children’s Hospital dressed as a reindeer to help Santa deliver presents – a trip that certified the pony’s incredible affinity with youngsters.
“We didn’t know what would happen when we first took him there. But when we arrived the staff brought out a little girl in a wheelchair with drips hanging everywhere. I recall she had leukaemia and possibly not long left with her family but her dream was to see a pony,” Alison explained.
“At first, Dillon took a step back and snorted, and I just thought: ‘Oh no’. But then the girl put her little fragile hand out with a treat, and Dillon just knew.
“He walked up to her wheelchair, took the treat and started nuzzling her cheek. I believe she died a few weeks later but Dillon had at least been there to make one of her dreams come true.”
Dillon, who arrived at Blue Cross in 1997, went on to become an annual a celebrity visitor to the hospital – a role he relished.
Alison said: “When we used to get to the hospital he got so excited that he started shaking and then his bells would start jingling and the children would just love it.
“During his visits all sorts of children would come out – those excited and happy, and those wheelchair-bound, drips in arms and possibly experiencing their last Christmas.
“Dillon gave his all to every one of these kids. He was sometimes a little worried by the machinery, but he understood his job and still offered kisses and cuddles, bringing a smile to their face at Christmas, and a tear to all those watching.”