A scary looking pirate named Wyatt sat on a bucket and began reading Walter Farley’s classic “Little Black, A Pony” to Jasmine. She’s a quarter horse mare who’s neither black nor a pony. But she listened anyway and even nodded her head when Wyatt faithfully showed her the pictures on every page. He made sure to tell her the hard words in case she ever needs to read them again.
Wyatt was just one of 70 first graders from Stillwater’s Highland Park Elementary School who read to horses on May 18. The Literacy Field Day was the capstone of a grant from Central Rural Electric Cooperative Foundation in partnership with Turning Point Ranch Therapeutic Riding Center and the national Horse Tales Literacy Project.
The students moved through twelve activity stations ranging from reading to measuring horses with hands to racing, roping, and even painting rocks to resemble the horses painted on caves walls in France 15,000 years before Christ was born. They learned about blazes, pommels, fetlocks and curry combs. Facepainting was particularly popular with readers who became pirates, spiderman, kittens and butterflies.
It all began in February, when the CREC Foundation approved a grant to buy 2 books for each of the 70 first graders at Highland Park. Coop members “round up” their bills to create a fund that’s used for community projects. In early April, Turning Point brought a little black pony and a big red horse to the school to give each child their own copy of “Little Black, A Pony” and take pictures of the children with horses.
Dr. Tracy Carter is an OSU zoologist and Turning Point instructor. She says “We knew the kids would be excited to have real horses on the playground, but they were thrilled with the books. Many of them dropped to the ground and began reading as soon as the books were in their hands – tagging the nearest adult to ask “what’s this word?” and reading aloud.
For a month the first graders practiced reading so they could come and read to the horses. Their teachers, Mrs. Driskel, Mrs. Melton and Ms. Roberts claim the excitement of “real” horses inspired the students to new heights. By the field day, they were nearly all reading above grade level. The school district intends to follow the 70 students for the next three years to measure the impact of the program on their academic progress.
Horse Tales Literacy is a national program founded by the son of Walter Farley, an author best known for “The Black Stallion.” Their foundation helps underwrite the cost of books for students in Title One schools such as Highland Park Elementary. For $10 per child, the foundation provides two hard cover books per child and extensive curriculum material for the teachers.
Turning Point, a member of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, usually provides riding and other horse-related activities to individuals with physical, mental or emotional challenges. But one of their instructors saw a presentation on the Literacy Program at a conference and felt it would be a great way to give back to the local community. Turning Point provided the horses and the activity plan. Highland Park provided the students and buses for transportation. Central Rural Foundation bought the books. Volunteers from throughout the Stillwater area including the OSU Rodeo Club, OSU Equestrian Team, Cowboy Church and Stillwater High School came forward to keep the readers safe, challenged and moving from station to station. Turning Point Board members Wes Watkins and Joe Vielma provided facilities at Peaceable Acres for the event.
Following a short popsicle break, every first grader got a certificate and a new book, “Little Black Goes to the Circus” to take home and read over the summer vacation. Wyatt says it was the “best field trip ever!” And if it inspires a lifetime of reading for Wyatt and his classmates, everyone involved will agree.
You can read about Horse Tales at www.horsetalesliteracy.org
Natalea Watkins, email@example.com 405-747-0925.