I’m an educator at heart and by training. So, when I read about the Take the Reins program in last week’s Lexington Herald Leader, I was intrigued. Meg Leavitt rescued a 10-year-old Belgian she named Mercy and brought the mare to her home at Walnut Hall Stock Farm. After restorative farrier care and some groceries, Mercy is now ready to be a rescue ambassador to students at Julius Marks Elementary School. I’ve heard of minis being used in school presentations, but a draft horse? This will be grand! No doubt Mercy’s sheer size will get the kids’ attention.
The purpose of this program is even bigger. Take the Reins has two goals: 1) to teach youth about the horse industry, proper horse care, and “compassionate service,” and 2) to raise funds for the Kentucky Equine Humane Center (KyEHC), for which Leavitt sits on the Board of Directors. The KyEHC is one of the largest all breed horse rescues in central Kentucky, handling 100 to 120 horses per year. They take horses that are abused, abandoned, and neglected, or whose owners can no longer care for them, and once rehabilitated, horses receive training with the ultimate goal of adoption. You can learn more at www.kyehc.org.
Programs like Take the Reins happen with a lot of ingenuity, but also community and corporate support. The program organizers are grateful to Alltech for supporting Julius Marks in this innovative effort. So, what exactly will students do and learn?
They will not only meet Mercy, but the students will foster Patrick’s Bullseye, an orphaned 5-month-old colt at KYEHC, by raising money for his care. In addition, they will write stories about him in English classes, calculate how much hay he should eat and how much it will cost, plus grow carrots for him in the school garden. Experiential learning at its best. As learners, we often retain little from simply reading a book or watching a demonstration, but by creating relevant tasks to a meaningful story and a bit of external motivation – like feeding carrots to the school’s foster horse – and you might have the recipe for success. I will eagerly await to see the results of this project.
A school-based education program for youth is just one example of how organizations related to the horse industry are working to reduce the number of unwanted horses. Many successful programs and events already exist. Organizations small and large have hosted charity horse shows, donated advertising space, given time and money to non-profit re-training or rehoming facilities, hosted training challenges, or built tracking databases and full circle programs to name a few.
Just last week, the UHC published an online resource listing model programs and hopes to become a clearinghouse where people interested in helping unwanted horses can take a look at what others are doing. Take a peek at http://www.unwantedhorsecoalition.org/join-the-effort/.
Sure, it is difficult to say if any one program is better than another, but the beauty in having such breadth of ideas is that 1) we don’t have to recreate the wheel, and 2) there is a model that can fit the human and financial resources of ANY group or organization with an interest in helping horses.
My hope is to identify and share as many programs as possible, and surely one will inspire you to Join the Effort!