Spirit of the Herd was founded by Val Kear in 1993, when Val took on her first rescue pony, Humbug the Shetland (he is still going strong out on our loan scheme!). Since then, the sanctuary has moved between a couple of sites, and has now settled in Alvanley, just above the town of Helsby. Val found that being around the horses and ponies made a huge difference to people's mental health and general happiness, and was especially helpful to those with learning needs such as autistic spectrum disorder.
Nowadays, our focus is on how people and our ponies can help each other. Every week, students with learning disabilities from Petty Pool College come to work with the ponies, and have been really enjoying their time with us. The local Cub group are also carrying out activities to obtain their their 'horse care' badges. Many local people with mental health conditions and low self-confidence have been helped by being around our ponies and the calm, tranquil atmosphere at Spirit of the Herd.
We are working to increase the number of people that we can help, and are fund-raising to enable us to do this. We are applying for funding opportunities to allow us to improve our facilities for both visitors and the horses, so that this can be a year-round endeavour. One of our volunteers is certified by the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA), and plans to begin working with a psychotherapist and the ponies to help more people.
Our current volunteers
We have a number of regular volunteers who help out in a variety of vital ways; each person brings something different. Most people help with general horse care and handling, and have a particular pony to take care of. Others help with events, or help with fund-raising, social media, teaching, and general maintenance of the sanctuary.
Our volunteers have a range of backgrounds; some have formal equine qualifications, others lots of practical experience, and others with skills such as working with children and conducting equine-assisted therapy. A number of people come to us to learn about how to work with horses.
Val founded Spirit of the Herd about 25 years ago. Val had horses and ponies since the age of 14, and has never been without them since! Val is to be found at Spirit of the Herd most days of the week, and loves making a difference to both horses and people, particularly those with learning needs and mental health conditions.
Helen joined SotH about eight years ago, when the sanctuary was based at the hay rack site near Ellesmere Port. Helen loves volunteering, particularly as she gets to help the ponies progress over the years, making all the hard work worthwhile. Her favourite horse is Ice, due to his lovely gentle nature and the fact that he's such a character!
Ursula started volunteering at the sanctuary in 2016, when her own horse died. She wanted to continue to be around horses as she'd grown up with them and she finds them therapeutic. Ursula feels honoured to be around the horses, and privileged when they let her into their space. Ursula makes wonderful creations such as horse shoe photo frames, to raise money for SotH.
After volunteering at a horse rescue in San Diego, Annabel began volunteering at SotH when she got home. Annabel “loves to do Reiki with the ponies as well as getting stuck into the more practical tasks of pony and land care, building maintenance, and raising funds. It’s so wonderful to see both volunteers and ponies evolve in this magical space."
Kelly is responsible for a lot of our social media content, and is helping to raise our profile online. Kelly has found that her relaxing time at SotH has allowed her to deal with her own anxieties, stresses and insecurities; learning to work with the ponies, helping with the care classes and recently speaking on local radio has helped her to push herself out of her comfort zone.
Rick is new to working with horses, but has found that being around them helps him to relax and helps with anxiety. He is involved with a lot of the maintenance of the site, and supports the running of weekend activities. Rick's favourite horse is the cheeky Paddy, due to his laid-back nature.
Teresa joined the SotH volunteer team recently, alongside her daughter Lauren, and helps with general care and maintenance. Teresa loves the relaxing and welcoming atmosphere at the sanctuary, and how friendly everyone is, especially the ponies! Teresa particularly likes Boxer and Reggie due to their winning personalities, and Lauren most enjoys working with the nervous Star.
Anna came to Spirit of the Herd with her daughter Flo, and enjoyed it so much that she decided to become a regular volunteer. Anna enjoys the peace and acceptance of the sanctuary, and that Flo can just be herself. Anna helps with day-to-day care of the ponies and with events at Spirit of the Herd. Her favourite pony is Rupert, as he is cheeky and most like a dog!
Steph has loved horses since she was young, but life got in the way of her passion until recently. Steph now helps with general care and by using her knowledge of health and safety, events management, and fund-raising. Steph says that volunteering has helped her, "my anxiety and depression are lifting and I have found the peaceful piece of the puzzle that I didn't know I was missing".
Matt is a Veterinary Physiotherapist who qualified with a Post-Graduate Diploma from Nottingham Vet School. Matt provides free veterinary physiotherapy to the ponies at Spirit of the Herd to help with their rehabilitation.
Louise's background is in animal behaviour and training; she holds a degree in Animal Behaviour from the University of Liverpool, and was a lecturer at Reaseheath College for a number of years. Louise uses positive reinforcement (clicker) training with some of the sanctuary's horses to help with their rehabilitation.
AJ has been around horses since she was little. She's always enjoyed caring for horses more than riding them and volunteered at yards in Poland and the UK as well as worked as professionial groom in Germany. She enjoys spending time with our ponies and see them blossom. She finds the company of our ponies very beneficial in her daily struggle with anxiety.