Kiwi the pony is getting old and wants to retire so that he can relax and spend his days eating grass.
He’s 30 years old – that’s older than 80 in human years – and has lived and worked at the Gaddesden Place Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) centre since 2003.
His days as a show horse – where his beauty won him all sorts of trophies at regional and national level – are long gone.
But he still cuts an elegant figure and now spends his days bringing joy into the lives of disabled people. They ride him for therapeutic purposes and to enhance their core strength.
Kiwi lives with 15-year-old ponies Chester, Angus, Bramble and Murphy and horse Stan, 20, who looks after heavier riders.
Altogether they help about 110 riders a week, who visit the centre as individuals and through school trips.
Kiwi’s typical day involves helping three to four riders during the course of about two hours.
Owner Margaret Keith, from Edlesborough, said: “He has given so much that it’s time that he has some grass time, so he can actually just chill.”
But first the RDA will need to find a replacement for him. The RDA’s 100 volunteers have been scouring the country to find the right pony to take his place.
The candidate must be calm, experienced, ideally aged between 12 and 20, able to carry a lot of weight and happy to work inside and out.
The RDA centre is prepared to buy or accept a loan of a pony – but he or she will have to pass a four-week trial.
Margaret said: “For a disabled person, to be able to have the therapy of sitting on a pony is just magical.
“If you are disabled, you can’t stand, you can’t run, you can’t do lots of the things that we take for granted.
“And so, it’s actual physical therapy because they are working on their core strength. But, for me, it’s just fun.
“If you are a little boy, you go and play football. If you are disabled you can’t do that, so it just means that they have something that perhaps is special for them. That’s why it’s so good.”
William Meachem, 11, from Toddington, has been going to Gaddesden Place RDA once a week for about two years as part of his PE lessons.
He has taken exams on how to handle horses at the centre.
Mum Kirsti said: “He really loves it – they do work him quite hard physically sometimes, which is great and that’s why he comes here. But they always make it fun for him.
“It’s actually quite a relaxing time for him, even though his body’s working quite hard. He loves it, it’s always lots of fun and he hates it if he misses a week.”
William suffers from ataxic cerebral palsy and struggles with his coordination, making participation in sports like football and basketball difficult.
Kirsti said: “If he’s standing on his feet, he’s at a disadvantage, because he’s having to use his legs.”
William said: “Long live Gaddesden Place RDA!”