A Redwings Horse Sanctuary supporter and her rehomed rescued pony have taken on a running challenge together to raise awareness for mental health.
Having been inspired by the Couch to 5k programme, Jen Brooker, from Saxthorpe, decided to run the equivalent of two marathons over six weeks with Redwings pony Smartie by her side. It is thought Smartie, a 16-year-old Welsh Section A pony, may be one of the only ponies ever to complete the popular programme!
The dedicated pair completed their challenge with a 9km run on June 28, which finished outside the entrance to Redwings’ Aylsham visitor centre and raised £240 for the mental health charity Mind.
While the site is currently closed to visitors, staff and friends were ready and waiting at the gates to cheer them on.
Jen said: “The idea came about when I started the Couch to 5k running programme, and I saw it as an opportunity for Smartie to get fitter too. I decided to raise money for Mind after Smartie helped my daughter so much with her mental health. Plus, with the coronavirus pandemic seeing a surge in the need for mental health support, it seemed fitting.”
Smartie was rehomed with his guardian, Jen, in 2011 to be a companion for her late mare, Tottie. He was originally one of 13 ponies rescued by the RSPCA, and later cared for by Redwings, from a farm in Wales where they were discovered in an emaciated state.
The lovable pony became firm friends with Jen’s daughter Jessica and helped her to overcome some challenges in a difficult period in her life. Though Jessica is now grown up, Smartie remains with Jen and has helped other children regain their confidence through equine-assisted learning sessions.
“Running has always been a way of reducing my own stress levels and to have Smartie, my very special friend, beside me is magical. We get to chat every day and I always remind him of the memories he has created,” added Jen.
“We’ve had a few strange looks from people who aren’t used to seeing people running with a pony and he is the only pony that we know of in the Couch to 5k group on Facebook, so he may be one of the first ponies to complete the programme!
“We’ve had a fantastic time and may look to make it an annual challenge and see if we can recruit some friends (with two and four legs) to join in with us.”
Rachel Angell, Redwings’ head of Norfolk equine operations, who oversees the rehoming programme, said: “We’re very proud of this super pair. Whilst Smartie is not being ridden at the moment, this is a fantastic way to keep him fit and healthy and, most importantly, for him to have some fun with his guardian. The fact that they have raised such a great total for a very worthy cause is just the icing on the cake.”
Kathleen Miles director of fundraising at Mind, said: “This is a wonderfully unique way to raise money and awareness that really does bring a smile to the face. The bond between Smartie, Jen and her family is clearly very special. It’s heartwarming to see creativity from people like Jen who are finding alternative ways to help Mind, and we are so grateful to her for choosing to support us. Donations from efforts like that of Jen (and Smartie!) mean that more people experiencing poor mental health in these unbelievably difficult times, are able to get the support they need to see them through.”
To find out more about Redwings rehoming programme and the rescued ponies currently looking for loving new homes, please visit www.redwings.org.uk/rehoming
For further information about Mind, please visit www.mind.org.uk