Calthorpe mother launches animal therapy business after daughter’s bond with pony helped combat anxiety

Jennie Brooker of Special-FX a new business using animals to help people with self confidence and

Jennie Brooker of Special-FX a new business using animals to help people with self confidence and social learning issues. Her daughter Jessica Spooner (16) was helped by Smartie the pony, helping to transform her from a girl who would not go to school due to bullying and anxiety problems to a girl now aiming to be a vet.Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

A mother who watched her daughter suffer with crippling anxiety found an innovative method of recovery - all it took was some horsing around.

Jennie Brooker of Special-FX a new business using animals to help people with self confidence and

Jennie Brooker of Special-FX a new business using animals to help people with self confidence and social learning issues. Her daughter Jessica Spooner (16) was helped by Smartie the pony, helping to transform her from a girl who would not go to school due to bullying and anxiety problems to a girl now aiming to be a vet.Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Five years ago Jennie Brooker, of Calthorpe near Erpingham, saw her daughter Jess Spooner suffer with severe anxiety as a result of bullying to the point where she became physically distressed.

The youngster was afraid of attending school and was in and out of hospital. She was described as a 'medical mystery' before the root of her physical symptoms were discovered.

At the same time as Jess was ill, animal-lover Miss Brooker welcomed Redwings pony Smartie to their family - a horse who had previously suffered neglect.

Jess, now 16, developed a special bond with the new addition and, within 12 months, she was discharged from hospital and back to school.


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'I watched them build this relationship. He would act accordingly and change his behaviour as she became more confident.

'Jess wasn't eating, wasn't drinking, wasn't sleeping. We couldn't unlock the key for so long but Smartie did,' said Miss Brooker, 36.

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Jess, who grew up surround by animals, said when the family got Smartie her life started to get better.

'You feel calm when you are with horses. No matter how I am feeling I feel better when I am with them. It's fun and relaxing and they are good to be around,' she said.

Jess has just finished her GCSEs at Aylsham High School and hopes to continue her studies at Paston Sixth Form College before embarking on her dream to become a veterinary surgeon.

'I want to give back to them. Animals don't judge you. You can tell them everything and they listen in their own way.'

And her mother has dreams of her own - to use her daughter's experience to help others through a new business Special FX which aims to help social learning and self confidence through animal therapy for all ages.

'With animals there is no commitment to respond. If an adult communicates with you, you sometimes don't know how to respond. With animals it's unconditional,' said Miss Brooker.

In January, the mother, who has two other ponies called Dinky and Pancake, was able to give up her job at St Andrew's School in Aylmerton working with children with special needs in order to focus on developing her business.

She said at the moment she works on an outreach basis - taking her business to schools and town halls.

Miss Brooker, who said her partner Martin Greenacre shares her love of animals, said a typical therapy session was tailored to the client and involved simple steps such as building the confidence to approach the pony and learning about their upkeep.

'The long term dream is to have an education centre built inside a 24 hour respite site and do family groups and holidays,' she said.

'Equine facility learning is big in the US and is being noticed in the UK.'

She added they were looking for further funding with a view to setting up a base.

To contact Miss Brooker phone 01263 761343 or search Special-FX Erpingham on Facebook.

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