'Dr Peyo', the remarkable horse bringing peace to French cancer patients

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For several years, Hassen Bouchakour and his horse Peyo used to compete together in equestrian shows, but they have since entered a radically different world. Peyo, now aged 15, revealed himself to have an unusual empathy towards people in distress, and a remarkable ability to relieve their anxiety. The pair now visit patients, often the terminally ill, at a hospital in Calais, northern France, where Peyo’s comforting close physical presence is so calming for those in pain that it reduces the need for heavy medication. Medics and veterinarians are studying the exceptional character and powers of he who is now called “Dr. Peyo”. Jérémy Lempin reports here in words and pictures.  

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    © Jeremy Lempin / Divergence

    November 26th 2020, at the palliative care unit at the Calais general hospital: After visiting the children’s block on the first floor, Hassen and Peyo arrive by lift to visit adult patients. “Peyo is so integrated into the medical team that he is nicknamed ‘Doctor Peyo’,” explains Hassen.

    For a long time, Hassen and Peyo competed in dressage and equestrian shows around the world. Peyo is not a horse which automatically wants attention from humans – he has a strong character. But at the end of some of the competitions, the stallion would seek out some members of the audience, approaching them and spending time at their sides. After a while, Hassen realised that Peyo always chose people who appeared to be physically or psychologically weakened.

    To better understand the phenomenon, Hassen decided to contact specialists – veterinarians, but also neurologists, psychiatrists and psychologists, and other medical specialists. After four years of studying the horse’s gift, carrying out tests involving more than 500 horses, including others belonging to Hassen, the specialists decided that Peyo's behaviour was unique. What they are still trying to explain is his ability to detect cancer in human beings and his desire and insistence to be with some patients during all of their last moments.

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