Sister Mary JoyHorses are helping a group of young people with autism to overcome the issues of social interaction and communication that are so prevalent in the condition.

Volunteers at the Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre (WSPC) in West London have seen smiles appear on the most serious of faces and an agitated or distressed child instantly calmed when introduced to one of the centre’s horses or ponies.

Working with horses can help children with autism to reduce anxiety through the rhythmic movement of riding; improve focus; stimulate the senses and improve verbal communication; develop social interaction with the volunteers and other children; and increase self-confidence.

Though more research needs to be done to assess the true value of equine therapy on children with autism, centre manager Sister Mary-Joy Langdon is in no doubt about the positive effects of her animals on the children with autism that visit her centre.

Langdon – who was Britain’s first female firefighter before becoming a nun and pony-centre manager – said: “We can see that children with autism benefit enormously from coming into contact with our ponies and horses. The transformation is often breathtaking and always completely magical.

“From the simple joy and relaxation of riding, to the enhanced focus the children develop as they pick their way carefully around the riding area, there is a rainbow of positive effects for our young visitors. Everyone knows that animal therapy can work wonders, but to see it in action is simply amazing.”