Not horsing around: Meet Dounka, the Spanish mare bringing 'good vibes' to the elderly

The mare Dounka making her visits at the retirement home in France
The mare Dounka making her visits at the retirement home in France Copyright Julien SENGEL / AFPTV / AFP
Copyright Julien SENGEL / AFPTV / AFP
By Doloresz Katanich with AFP
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A Spanish mare called Dounka offers the residents of a retirement home in France regular visits and brings 'good vibes' and improved 'well-being'.


Rose Gresset seemed a little confused when she opens her front door and is greeted by a horse asking to come in. Confused, but definitely happy.

The 88-year-old lives in the retirement home MARPA in Ornans, France, where Spanish mare Dounka visits the 24 residents regularly, accompanied by zootherapist Emmanuelle Pfrimmer. 

Dounka is a 1.57 metres-tall mare and weighs 475 kilos. An impressive visitor to find in your hallway, let alone in your bedroom. But her presence is more than welcome, as she brings back memories of Rose's childhood on her family's farm. Even if the animals never entered the room.

"They were in the stable!", laughs Rose. 

"Thank you for making me relive my life a little," she adds, with tears in her eyes.

What are the health benefits of a horse visit?

Zootherapist Emmanuelle Pfrimmer knows a lot about the healing powers of engaging with animals. 

Studies show that human-animal interaction is highly beneficial for senior people, as it can improve their cardiovascular health, as well as help reduce depression and anxiety. 

“Emotional memory is one that stays the longest,” explains the zootherapist. "For the elderly who have had young animals, it speaks to them, it makes them feel good."

"The benefits of the animal visit last for several days in their daily lives," says Pfrimmer. "Whether it improves the quality of their sleeping, or taking medication, which is reduced thanks to the contact with the animals. They also feel the happiness, the joy, improved well-being."

"Thank you for making me relive my life a little."
Rose Gresset
88-year-old resident, MARPA retirement home

Visiting a few other residents and even getting a few carrot treats, Dounka doesn't limit her visits to rooms. She heads to the living room, where a dozen residents have taken their place. They sit in a semi-circle for a short quiz - naturally on the theme of horses. Dounka calmly stands in front of them while Pfrimmer invites everyone to participate.

Dounka "brings them well-being, it stimulates them a lot at the cognitive level", says Michel Prati, house manager of the residence.

The quiz comes to an end. Dounka shows signs of tiredness, as she lifts one hoof, then the other. One more quick visit in a room and then it will be time for the mare and her mistress to take their leave.

The residents say goodbye to the two of them through the bay window, already waiting for the next visit.

Watch the video above to see how Dounka helps the elderly.

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