Preface by Joanna Birley, Founder of The Country Corner animal therapy project.

Following a freak riding accident in the summer of 1986, I faced life in a wheelchair but wanted to still be involved with animals, albeit not spooky Thoroughbreds any more and it was recommended that I ‘trade-in’ my Thoroughbred for an American Quarter Horse as they were a sensible and easily trained breed, purpose-bred as the perfect companion for the working cowboy – the recommendation proved true and I enjoyed riding again, leaving my wheelchair behind and ‘walking’ away to explore the countryside.

Sadly, I no longer have my horse but take great pleasure in the more miniature version.

What started with just a few miniature horses and chickens for my own enjoyment and ‘feel-good’ factor on old Verwood Farm land in 1992, has slowly grown the ‘family’ to include a couple of Kune Kune pigs and in 2023 a small herd of Pygmy goats to choose two from, that are most suitable for me to handle from a wheelchair.

My first idea to invite people to benefit from the ‘feel-good’ factor these lovely animals give you, was following contact by a member of the Wimborne mental health team many, many years ago, who asked if they could bring along one of their clients and spend some time helping out – this was a real hit and got me thinking about others that could benefit from me inviting them to my little corner of the countryside, and so, the Country Corner was born.

The site had definitely helped me to mentally reset my mind after hearing the shocking words “you’ll never walk again”.

Having enjoyed the site and my few animals for many years, I wanted to be able to share this benefit with others at the spinal unit in Salisbury where I had spent ten months on rehab.

In order to invite others, the site had to be improved slightly as what I could manage after many decades in a wheelchair, visitors newly using a wheelchair and navigating terrain, could not.

Having fondly called my corner of the Dorset countryside, ‘The Country Corner’, I ran it as a not-for-profit social enterprise.

The site is run totally by volunteers and is supported by donations and fundraising events.

The site has been customized gradually, as funds allowed, over many years, to enable me to look after the animals myself but when ground conditions make accessing from a wheelchair impossible, my lovely band of volunteers or family members step in to help.

Before Covid, I welcomed home-schooled children once a week in term-time which raised funds to help support this lovely little corner of the countryside but we have never opened for them again due to the great cost of repairs necessary to bring us into line with ‘health and safety’ after the long shut down following Covid and as the land has always been ear-marked for the building of the upper school on the school campus which already has the first school, middle school, youth club and caretaker’s house, to invest heavily in the ‘school’ land would not make sense and the adjacent land that we had always planned to establish a ‘rustic therapy’ centre on, is, sadly, no longer a possibility – I lost land I had kept animals on for 27 years.

It makes the most sense, knowing one day that the ‘school’ land will need to be handed back to the Council for the building of the Upper School, to make ourselves very ‘mobile’ and so, once we have finished our crowd fund for the low-level trailer, we will start a crowd fund for a larger lorry with slide-out sections to make wheelchair-access easier inside.

With a larger adapted lorry, when the day comes to have to relocate due to the Upper School build, we can still carry on our animal therapy with wheelchair-accessible toilet and kitchen facilities, but rather than these being on the ‘school’ site, they will be in the adapted lorry parked on, hopefully another local plot of land to rent.

To save having to move again, maybe our next crowd fund should be for a plot of land to purchase, so we will have a permanent base for our small collection of animals?



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