A couple of Saturdays ago it was blowing a gale and was pretty miserable weather wise. We headed over to the Donkey Sanctuary near Sidmouth for a specific purpose. On the second saturday of each month there is the opportunity for children with special needs to have donkey rides within the sanctuary in a specialist centre. I had heard really positive stories about it so wanted to go along and find out more.
The Donkey Sanctuary is surrounded by countryside and is in a really beautiful setting near Sidmouth. There are many lush green fields within the sanctuary for the donkeys to roam and I imagine in good weather it is a joy to see them pottering about. As it was on this particular saturday, the weather was so grim they were inside a lovely big barn with overhead heaters. So that’s where we headed first to say hello.
There is a gift shop that is full of donkey-tastic things to buy and a restaurant which was closed for redecoration when we went but I see from the website that it has now just reopened.
This is as close to anything Valentine you are going to see on my blog! Valentine was particularly friendly, came over to see us as soon as we came in and was very interested in J who was in his buggy. He kept putting his nose through the bars for a closer sniff (I think?!).
Prior to our visit I did phone ahead and book J in for his 15 minute donkey ride. I did voice my concern that J is so little despite the fact he will be 3 in May but I was assured the youngest they have had on a donkey was a one year old! Good I thought. Jesse is now donning 12-18m clothes so he should be fine. The riding therapy centre is the Elisabeth Svendsen Trust for Children and Donkeys and it merged with the Donkey Sanctuary in January of last year. The therapy sessions are free of charge and are for children with special needs and disabilities. Inside the centre are some toys to play with while waiting and a small sensory room. You can also buy light refreshments in there too.
This playground is specifically for children that are attending the therapy sessions. I really like the fact this is here actually. J loves playgrounds. Sometimes it can be a bit of a minefield for him with other children being naturally boisterous and bouncing around. I’m looking forward to seeing what this is like in better weather.
So.. onto the ride! Well, I am happy to say they did have a little helmet small enough for J! To my surprise he didn’t fight it being put on either. Since he has a few sensory issues I was not expecting a huge success first time round to be honest and wasn’t even sure we would be able to get him sitting on the donkey without wailing.
As it was he coped well being on such a big donkey (I am having flashbacks to when I was around 12 and went to a horse riding place on holiday and was just too scared being on the horse and have never been on one since!). Actually the donkey was small but for J I am sure he seemed pretty huge! J’s feet wouldn’t reach the stirrups so they were taken off and he was well supported to sit up on the ride around. J spent most of the time with his thumb planted in his mouth (which meant he wasn’t quite sure of it) but at one point he did take his thumb out and giggled. In my book that is a success and it was so lovely to be able to give it a try. We also tried J laying on his front over the donkey’s back on a sheepskin rug to see if he preferred that position. He didn’t complain but I think sitting upright was better for him.
In summary I would definitely recommend the sanctuary as a lovely place to have a day out. This review is obviously focused on the riding therapy within the sanctuary more. I am looking forward to going back for more donkey rides and also to experience the Sanctuary in its entirety. I have a longstanding friend who has been there a few times over the years as her mum lives close by and she still loves it. It’s definitely worth making the trip. You will find the donkey sanctuary on twitter here and also here for the therapy centre. It is the world’s largest donkey and mule charity and naturally donations are welcomed. You can also find them over on facebook too. Go and say hello!