Friday, July 26, 2013

Horses Give Hope

Horses give hope.  I've known this for a very long time.  They're domesticated, but not entirely-they can still live in the wild-and you can see this, if you've been around them enough, by the amount of instinctive non-verbal communication they still maintain.  For a long time, the Kentucky Horse Park had a small bronze statue of a running horse over by its Big Barn, on the way to the dressage arenas.  Something about the bronze horse's expression clearly said, "Run, the lions are coming!" to every live horse who saw it.  The statue spooked so many horses that the park finally moved it.

Similarly, horses respond to people's nonverbal communications.  The famed "horse whisperers" a very, very good at controlling every nuance of their body language, aware of how it affects the horse. But horses take in clear messages from us mortals, too.  They know when we're happy, fearful, sad.  They know when we're clueless.  How they respond to us depends on their personalities, history, and training, but they take everything in.

But horses don't care if people are beautiful by human standards.  They don't care if we're rich, smart, or thin.  They're really not interested in how much our jazzy new breeches cost, or whether our boots were custom-made or hand-me-downs.  Horses don't notice race, religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation or anything else humans tend to get riled up about nowadays.

Are you consistent?  Are you trustworthy?  Are you kind?  Are you a leader?  That's the sort of stuff horses care about.

Yesterday at Pony Club Championships, I met Jo Anne Miller, the head of Brook Hill Farm, a remarkable organization in Bedford County, VA.  Jo Anne started the place as an equine rescue and rehabilitation facility-if you go to the farm's website, Brook Hill Farm, you'll see the sort of transformations she and her volunteers effect.  Lots of horrible stories with happy endings.  But the remarkable part, to me at least, is that Jo Anne started to rehabilitate teenagers, too.  Specifically some who had been abused much worse than the horses.  The teens in her program, United Neigh, are often ordered into it through the juvenile court system.  Some of them face very bleak futures.  They go to the farm two days a week, are each given a rescue horse to care for, and are taught to ride.  If they follow the rules, they earn privileges.  Jo Anne enrolls the  students in 4H and Pony Club (Brook Hill is an accredited Pony club riding center) and if they do well in the program they get the chance to compete.

This June the team from Brook Hill, none of whom had ever ridden away from the center before, finished first in the Old Dominion Region show jumping rally.  One of their members is competing here at Championships this weekend.  I don't know any details about this child, except that horses might be the saving of her.

Of the kids who have completed the United Neigh program, 100 percent have graduated high school. One hundred percent have gone on to secondary education.  From my work at Faith in Action, I can tell you that graduating from high school cuts a Preston's chance of living in poverty in half.  This is HUGE.

Brook Hill can use donations of all sorts.  Now I know where my orphaned tall boots will be heading.  What a joy, to let them have a second life on the feet of a child who needs and is getting a second chance.