Peyo and Hassen from the Les Sabots du Cœur Association: Light at the end of the tunnel
15 August 2022
15 August 2022
Most famous horses are renowned for their sporting prowess, their boundless courage or because they are the fruit of an author’s exuberant imagination. Names such as Hickstead, Jappeloup, Seabiscuit or Crin Blanc will surely ring a bell with you. However, none of them are known for the ability to detect illnesses. That said, you can be sure that Peyo deserves his place together with those history-making horses. This handsome gentle, yet tenacious, chestnut horse has the ‘gift’ of detecting tumours and metastases. In contrast to sniffer dogs trained to perform this task, Peyo was born with this quality. With this 6th sense of his, he provides the frailest people with empathy and humanity like no other horse would do. All this is possible thanks to Hassen Bouchakour, Peyo’s other half. Together, not forgetting those joining them in this admirable adventure, they formed an association called “Les Sabots du Cœur”. From hospital visits to end-of-life care, learn more about Peyo and Hassan’s extraordinary story.
Now 17 years old, this Berber horse is irrevocably uncommon. His name even bears testament to this. When he injured as a youngster, he was called “Peyo”, meaning “floor mop” in southern French slang. Also, the way he behaved with his fellow horses was none too common either. Acting aggressively towards them he became a loner and seemed entirely in a world of his own. It was the same with people. He avoided contact, preferring to be on his own. This shy demeanour was subsequently put down to a certain aloofness.
When Hassen crossed paths with a 7 year-old Peyo, he was looking for a dressage horse to partner him for his performances worldwide. As expected, the horse and rider duo had a rough ride for several months. Peyo was frisky, yet both sensitive and powerful. He displayed all sides of his occasionally couldn’t-care-less attitude. This meant that Hassen had to adopt a unique style when riding him.
So, Peyo was a complicated horse in the arena but when the show was over and he was out of the spotlight, he showed an entirely different side to himself to those who stayed behind. He let himself be stroked by specific people of his own choosing. At the end of each dressage competition, Peyo was naturally drawn to children or frail people, to give them a moment of tenderness and affection. It was this recurring behaviour, diametrically opposed to his usual demeanour that persuaded Hassen to show him to some medical experts.
That’s how Hassen, supported by numerous researchers, understood that Peyo was able to detect tumours and metastases. The horse instinctively knows, without any external prompts, how to zero in on the affected area and lick it, giving all the compassion and empathy that he is able to feel.
Hassen subsequently inherited this onerous responsibility. What could he, a dressage rider, do with his horse’s gift? He couldn’t possibly deprive patients of the comfort and solace that Peyo could give them.
So, the couple undertook more than 5 years of training to visit hospitals. As Hassen explains,
Hospital visits by horses are unusual and as such require compliance with a strict health protocol. Peyo has to be shaved, shampooed, dewormed and dosed, free of dust and then quarantined. His hooves also have to be cleaned, while his mane, legs and body must be covered. It takes up to 2 hours to complete all these steps.
Peyo and Hassen then pay voluntarily visits to hospitals once a month to provide the patients with a dose of well-being and a smile. As a member of the hospital staff says,
They also take notes on patient reactions when they spend time with Peyo to assess their progress. The nursing staff can see changes in the emotions and feelings but also in their speech and expressions. This encounter brings them back to the present and releases emotions that have sometimes been hidden for many years. Many patients talk to Peyo and Hassen about their past experiences with horses. The horse makes them more talkative and stirs memories.
For the children that Peyo sees, his visits are their highlight of the day. The horse knows perfectly how to adapt to their tempo. Peyo provides a breath of fresh air to the children’s days which are often far from what a child should normally experience. Peyo and the child patients have a special and very endearing relationship.
That said, Peyo chooses the people that he wants to spend time with. Always relying on his instincts, he strides through the hospital departments to meet his stars for the day. Peyo often goes to the frailest patients to give them protection and comfort. This occasionally hot-headed horse transforms into a calm, even mesmerised steed, so to speak, for these patients. Many eagerly await the return of this highly unusual visitor.
Patient support doesn’t just stop at the hospital entrance, soHassen stays in touch with the families of recovering or end-of-life patients to provide them with help and support. By offering families welfare assistance or a contribution to funeral costs for solitary or isolated patients, Hassan provides help in the spirit of solidarity which also safeguards their right to dignity.
All this wouldn’t be possible without an association. Les Sabots du Cœur has been supporting 20 end-of-life patients each month since 2016 while 150 health professionals are also involved in this initiative, as are those behind the scenes, without whom nothing would be possible.
Les Sabots du Cœur is a listed association of general interest and you can make a (tax deductible) donation directly on its website: https://lessabotsducoeur.org/.
As members of the Antarès family for 3 years now, Hassen and Peyo have a special place in our hearts for their kindness and their cause. To that end, we’re delighted to assist “special partners” and that’s why we have created French-made, certified, masks where all proceeds will be transferred to the association. In fact, 1,574 euros have already given to Hassen and Peyo.
Efforts to raise funds continue:
We’ve also created a bag for World Oceans Day where part of the profits will be transferred to Les Sabots du Cœur Association.
For more details on this special duo that we, at Antarès, love dearly, take a look at a video of their interview (even Hassen hogs the microphone):
Also, if you want a little bit more, why not watch the video about Peyo and Hassen’s visit to Maison Antarès, in Saintes: