'When he decides, I cannot hold him back. It’s a need, it’s visceral, it is in him, he needs to go, and cling on to the specific person he has chosen.'
Certain animals have a wonderful relationship with humans and are often used in different kinds of therapy. We often hear stories of dogs being used to relax and destress patients in hospitals. However, nobody has ever heard of a horse serving as a therapy buddy to help people cope with loneliness and pain in hospitals. Peyo, a 15-year-old stallion makes rounds at the French hospital in Calais during the day. He comforts cancer patients who are nearing the end of their lives, per My Modern Met.
Peyo was initially prepared to compete in equestrian competitions, but as time went on, his handler Hassen Bouchakour started to see that his horse had a different purpose. Peyo would single out specific individuals in a gathering after performances and stick beside them. Later, Bouchakour understood why he kept picking people who were ill—either physically or mentally. The trainer chose to embrace Peyo's unique skill in order to assist people in need, giving up his job as a showman in the process. Currently, Bouchakour is working with the therapeutic group Les Sabots du Coeur (the clogs of the heart), which is researching Peyo's amazing skills. They are particularly curious about how a meeting with Peyo may drastically lessen patients' pain to the point where they no longer need heavy medications.
Bouchakour told Inspire More, "I am to some extent this horse’s collateral damage, I didn’t ask for this. It took me a while to accept it. It put an end to my successful career as a sportsman, and as a showman."
Bouchakour and Peyo started volunteering at Calais Hospital in 2016 and now visit patients in the palliative care section practically every day. Due to his refined abilities, the horse is now known as "Doctor Peyo." By standing by their door and lifting one leg, the former show horse signals to his handler which patients want attention. Bouchakour added, "It was very complicated to no longer be the master, and to be forced to admit that when Peyo detects someone is sick, I am no longer in control. When he decides, I cannot hold him back, it’s a need, it’s visceral, it is in him, he needs to go, and cling on to the specific person he has chosen."
Everyone at the hospital loves Peyo, including the staff and patients, but he is especially helpful when a patient is reaching the end of their life. They enjoy their last moments with Peyo and have a more peaceful death because of him. Since hospitals are sterile places, Bouchakour must spend around two hours getting Peyo ready for each visit. He cleans him carefully using disinfectant wipes and he has even taught Peyo to signal when he has to use the restroom. The horse signals to Bouchakour that he needs to be taken outdoors by shifting his body from side to side.
Hassen said, "With Peyo, we try to recreate life at the end of life, in order to fight, and create an energy to accompany families and caregivers. I accompany him but I let him do what he wants, he’s the one who decides." Peyo has helped more than a thousand individuals during their last hours since he started working as a therapy horse. Moreover, he is a true friend of his handler as Bouchakour explains, "Peyo is my other half, he is my life partner. He is everything to me."