Equine welfare teams from The Donkey Sanctuary and the RSPCA enjoyed some well-deserved downtime recently when they took part in wellbeing sessions with resident sanctuary donkeys.

Held at The Donkey Sanctuary’s international HQ in Sidmouth and regional centre near Leeds, Donkey Welfare Advisers from The Donkey Sanctuary and Equine Officers from the RSPCA had the opportunity to connect with each other away from their working lives.

The participants were given the chance to develop their understanding of donkey-assisted activities by taking part in mindfulness, interaction and donkey-facilitated learning sessions at the centres in Devon and Yorkshire.

In Sidmouth, the group explored life skills such as self-awareness and managing emotions, and practised how to lower their energy levels using mindfulness techniques.

They also discussed ways to use these techniques in their everyday lives, particularly when entering difficult or emotionally charged situations. They talked about the importance of spending a few minutes to check in with oneself, slow their breathing and become more present. This helps to create a calmer environment for the equines, who would then be more comfortable to be approached, and maybe even initiate the approach themselves.

A similar programme of events was held at the Leeds sanctuary, which is set in the Yorkshire countryside. The day’s objectives were to help the visitors to regroup, recharge, restore, relax and reinspire through their participation in several activities, while learning further about the work of the centre.

The day began with a group mindfulness and grounding session. This was followed by discussions around boundaries, approach and connection activities, donkey observations, and managing feelings and emotions.

There was then time for a buddy walk with the some of the donkeys through the centre’s countryside grounds, before finishing the day with quiet time for reflection.

Feeling supported

Hannah Bryer, Head of Welfare at The Donkey Sanctuary and organiser of the day, said: “Working in animal welfare is extremely rewarding but often involves working in highly emotive and complex situations with the potential for conflict. Our Donkey Welfare Advisers work as part of a remote team, so it vital to provide opportunities for them to connect with each other and feel supported.

“It was also great to welcome the RSPCA Equine Officers (EOs) to join our sessions. The Equine Officers are often the first point of contact for equine welfare issues among their colleagues, so to hear that these sessions left them with a better understanding of donkeys, as well as benefiting their own welfare, is fantastic.

“Donkeys are always at the forefront of our minds, and what is fantastic about these sessions is that they not only serve to support the wellbeing of people, but they are also an invaluable opportunity for learning more about donkeys and their welfare.”

Christine Styles, RSPCA Inspector and National Inspectorate Equine Co-ordinator, said: “We really enjoyed the day and I will certainly use some of the mindfulness techniques I have learnt.

“The donkeys made the day with their beautiful personalities and perfect natures, and it was such a treat to be able to spend the time with them. Observing the donkeys’ behaviours towards us was very interesting and certainly a learning experience.”

Hannah added: “Collaboration is an essential part of welfare work, and these sessions help build and strengthen relationships between agencies who so often are called together in the most challenging of circumstances.”

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