Local Program Uses Books to Unite Children and Rescued Horses
by MATT NORMAN
Have you ever considered the benefits of reading to a horse? Have you ever considered that it would actually benefit both the horse and the reader? A local group is seeing those benefits first hand. The Reading with Rescues program is giving kids the opportunity to read to horses that benefits the readers as well as the rescued equine they are paired with.
Dani, the founder and president of Hope Equine Rescue, has been part of the horse community since her childhood.The other members of the team are also active members of the horse community.
Hope Equine Rescue is on a mission to rescue abused, neglected, abandoned, and unwanted horses and to provide whatever rehabilitation they need to get back on their feet – or hooves. Their adoption service aims to provide these rescued horses with not just a home, but with the right home. They do this through an extensive screening process for prospective adopters. In the end, all of this is done for the benefit of the horses.
As with any non-profit, Hope Equine Rescue depends on many volunteers to get its work done. This is where the idea for Reading with Rescues comes from.
”We had so many kids wanted to volunteer, but some weren’t ready and some just weren’t old enough to be full volunteers. This was the inspiration that started the program,” says Mary Shields, the Director for Reading with Rescues.
“The Reading with Rescues program came from a desire to give these kids an opportunity to serve. What started as simply a way to get kids involved has turned into something that is helping kids and horses alike.”
Many children have a fascination with horses. However, most have little, if any, opportunity to be around them. One of the most basic benefits of this program is that kids get the chance to be around these animals, perhaps for the very first time. But, it’s so much more than that.
“Kids get to practice reading out loud, but without judgment. Much of the anxiety that comes with reading out loud is gone when the only one listening is a horse,” Mary explains,
Some children are readers and some are not. “The Reading with Rescues program gives kids that may not like to read a purpose, a reason to read other than just cause they are told to.” The benefits of this reading are obvious. While reading, these kids grow more comfortable reading out loud and even just speaking out loud. These can be very difficult things for many young individuals, even for adults.”
Hearing the reader read works helps these horses become comfortable to the sounds of voices and to people being close to them. This can be of great value when the time comes to start training this horse, or finding it the right home. In that way, the Reading with Rescues program actually becomes part of the horses training and rehabilitation.
Started in October of 2018, the program has already seen over 200 kids participate. Many enjoy it so much, they come back for multiple visits. Many adults have expressed interest in the program as well. The Reading with Rescues event is held twice per month, with 20-25 participants accepted for each session. Kids are encouraged to read anything they want or find most exciting to read.
“We had one boy who was learning about the U.S. constitution, so he brought a copy and read that to his horse,” explains Mary.
From homework to their favorite book, kids can bring their own materials. Don’t worry if they can’t decide or have nothing to bring, as the rescue has a variety of materials that the kids can choose from as well. The one-hour session includes approximately 20-25 minutes of reading out loud, then a “petting experience” where participants can get up close and pet one of the more kid-friendly horses. During this time they also can ask the handler horse-related questions.
Reading out loud can be stressful for young children, but also provides many benefits including growing confidence and increasing their overall reading level. Almost just as importantly, this opportunity also helps neglected horses a chance to become comfortable with close human interaction and their voices again. This program benefits all that are involved, and it is helping to make a real difference in the lives of horses and children alike here in Polk County.