A BOND with horses was once a central part of life that has been largely forgotten in modernity.

Now however, Newton Abbot’s new mayor, Cllr Mike Joyce, has chosen Horsemanship for Health as his charity of the year. And the timing couldn’t be better.

The evidence for benefits to mental health from time spent with animals is now firmly established.

Numerous studies have found strong links between improved mental health outcomes and time spent with animals. And broadly, reconnecting with nature is now seen a helpful antidote to anxiety.

With the Lockdown and its profound effect on the wellbeing of so many. The psychological toll of being housebound for so long, is still being reckoned with.

Belinda Seaward, who runs Horsemanship for Health has long known of the impact that horses can have on wellbeing. Her Community Interest Company, on the outskirts of Newton Abbot, aims to form a brief but lasting bond between her animals and the visitors they welcome.

Up an unsuspecting residential street, a lane brings you to her stables, with astounding views down over the Teign Estuary. Belinda, who’s been operating here since 2016, welcomes guests from hospitals specialising in mental health needs, and also hosts educational sessions with schoolchildren from the area.

Once inside the stables, resident ponies, Evie and Rose are invited out to come to meet their guests as they gradually expose themselves to their new visitors, which today, is a small group of people from a mental health hospital.

‘The ponies always walk to the people they haven’t met before first, explained Belinda, ‘they’re checking you out, seeing what you’re all about’, she added.

As the ponies make their way around a group of guests sat in a circle in the stable yard, it offers the group a chance to appreciate things to be grateful for. Lockdown lifting and that rarest of things this year, sunshine. All is done with the blessing of a ‘very generous’ farmer, Jeff Perry, who allows the use of his farm.

Belinda, who comes from a background in teaching, started Horsemanship for Health with her co-directors Jo Frodsham and Wendy Summerfield.

Belinda felt compelled to explore the benefit she felt from having close contact with her horses and decided to learn and focus on thearaputic horsemanship for around 10 years, to work with the animals professionally. ‘I threw myself into learning all I could about horses, said Belinda. ‘We’re all about education here… the first principle of learning about horses is about learning about yourself too.’

‘What you present to the horse, your emotions or mood – horses pick up on that’, explained Belinda. ‘They want you to be in the moment. So, if you’re stressed or anxious, they will know and they can help.’

She added: ‘We’ve had patients come to us who haven’t left hospital in months.’

Belinda takes their mental health training very seriously she tells me. Their ethos is to always ‘continue learning.’

She elaborated: ‘It’s not just about having a nice day in the sun here. We want our visitors to take something positive away with them, whatever shape that may take.’

Town mayor, Mike Joyce, was elated at being able to show guests around the beautiful site that was home to his chosen charity.

‘You can see why I chose this place, can’t you?’, he asked. For Mayor Joyce, picking this charity of the year was a no brainer.

‘My wife Sue and I discussed it and thought Horsemanship for Health was so different.’

It struck me as something that was not as widely known, something new, something different.’

Cllr Joyce explained that part of the appeal of the charity was that it offered something different to aid mental health, ‘not just medicine.’

He explained: ‘We met some children who came to visits and to see their reaction was so nice, how they naturally bond with the animals from such a young age.’

Beyond the stable yard are two white horses named Sheranni and Dragonfly.

Sheranni never tires of attention seeking and walks straight over with his blonde fringe flapping in the breeze.

His eagerness is rewarded as the he is announced deputy mayor for the day, mayoral chains included.

Cllr Joyce explained he might a threat to his leadership on his hands.

For more information about Horsemanship for Health visit their website at the Horsemanship for Health UK Facebook page.