Miniature ponies have been cheering up elderly Tauranga people.
Ruby and Chippie, who belong to Tauranga's Riding for the Disabled, had been to dozens of rest homes and retirement villages in the last eight months, said fundraising and marketing manager Kaasandra Chee.
The ponies' outings were funded by the Legacy Funerals Trust and yesterday was their first visit to The Avenues: Metlifecare Retirement Village, on the corner of 10th Ave and Devonport Rd.
Legacy trust directors Greg Brownless and Mike Savage also took time yesterday to check out the ponies.
About 30 village residents took the chance to pat and chat to the pony pair, who were in the care of RDA staffer Terryn Kirkham and 12-year-old volunteer Michelle Van Zweeden, who is home-schooled and happy to catch up on studies later.
Among residents patting the ponies was Maggie Sargeson who used to enjoy pony rides at the beach near her hometown of Dundee, Scotland. During her nursing days going horse riding was a great stress reliever, she said.
The visits were scheduled for Wednesdays and were proving very popular, said Chee.
Ruby and Chippie were the smallest members of the RDA stable and a great help for children who had never been near horses before.
"We start with children patting and chatting to these quiet little animals and move on to bigger ponies," said Chee.
The visits to rest homes have proved a revelation for Chee and her helpers. Several times they have seen people with Alzheimer's respond positively, she said.
"They remember the ponies' names when they can't remember the names of nursing staff."
In one case, a woman was convinced she had to help load the horses and get to the local show. It seems to trigger good childhood memories for them.
Chee said the organisation had been asked to start a "riding for the aged" session, but that would be too difficult, bringing too many risks of mishaps.
One recent outing for the pony pair was to a women's charity luncheon when their appearance as party animals was auctioned off for $1000. The lunch organisers gave $1200 to Tauranga RDA.
Another fundraiser for Tauranga RDA, based in Ngapeke Rd in Welcome Bay, was allowing children to own a pony and care for it during the school holidays.