Horses love to hear tales read by children, and kids who need a little extra incentive to read gratefully oblige them. This is the premise behind some mini horses that make biweekly trips to Roy Roberts Elementary School in Lubbock, Texas. Instead of trying to read aloud to adults or other classmates, students respond well by reading books to mini horses that come into the school’s library.
How Reading to Horses Works
The miniature horses first arrived at Roy Roberts Elementary School as a reward for good behavior and for reading. The horses receive special training before they begin to deal with the elderly, people who have disabilities, and at-risk youth. Therapy animals, such as horses, offer a perfect example of how animals get kids interested in reading.
The handlers of the mini horses keep an eye on the animals while the children read. If a kid has trouble with a word or two, the adult can step in and give assistance. Sometimes the handlers pretend to be the voice of the horse and whisper to the readers. The kids’ faces light up when the horse “talks” to them.
The humans holding the horses can ask children questions about the book, such as, “What do you think the horse would do in this situation?” The adults may also say that the horse wants to know about a certain aspect of the book, and then the child can talk even further. The two-way conservation gets young pupils excited about reading when more interaction comes into play.
Why Read to Animals?
Reading to animals fosters a nonjudgmental environment so kids can simply have fun reading. Children then equate the positive experience with animals to reading, which reinforces that reading can be a fun, interactive experience. Animals, such as the mini horses, help children connect to their books. Students also improve social skills by talking about what they read to the therapy animals.
Teachers can create special lesson plans when the animals arrive at school. If the animals are dogs, the subject of the books can include dogs. The same is true for cats, birds, hamsters and even horses. By pairing the animals with the story, kids get a more “real,” tactile experience than reading by themselves.
The biweekly storytimes at Roy Roberts Elementary have had a huge impact on the children. Retired teacher Ed Jones, who helped mediate the experience, says the kids have shown great improvement thanks to the interaction with horses. The reading program works so well that the horses plan to make regular visits well into 2017.
Reading to Horses Started With The Black Stallion
One of the earliest programs of students reading to horses began in 1999. Tim Farley, the son of The Black Stallion author Walter Farley, partnered with a dinner attraction show to create the Black Stallion Literacy Foundation. Now known as the Horse Tales Literacy Project, the program has helped more than 600,000 children across the United States develop a love for reading.
Horse Tales provides lesson plans and exercises that teachers can use to supplement books. As expected, the books for Horse Tales include The Black Stallion for fourth graders and several companion works for younger readers. Hands-on lessons teach kids about horse nutrition, grooming, care, and training. Another highlight is that students get to read their favorite passages from the books to the animals and they get to pet the horses.
When kids read to horses, they may start tentatively at first. After a few moments, children recognize that the horses actually like the stories and enjoy the company of the young kids. The smiles on the faces of students say it all when it comes to measuring the success of animal reading programs.
Horses aren’t the only animals that give children motivation to read.