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Through the Eyes of a Child

By Amanda M. Faison

When you look into a horse’s eyes, what do you see? My 12-year-old daughter sees a gentle and mysterious beast, a companion, a future.

Like many young girls, Georgia is horse-crazy. Buckets of plastic figurines and play-scale barns used to litter the floor of her room. The calendar on her wall is a rolodex of glossy beasts. And for years (to no avail), a horse has topped her birthday and Christmas lists. But it’s been Summit Valley Horse Center that has really brought her love of the animals into focus.

Three summers ago, after hearing about the organization from a friend, we began volunteering at the ranch. Initially I signed up as a summer activity but after we attended the orientation and spent time with horses big and small, I realized this was something bigger.

That first summer, we volunteered six or so times. Each day we worked with assigned horses. We caught them in the paddock, haltered them, and led them around the ring. We groomed their coats, tentatively picked their feet, and brushed and braided their manes. We learned knots and lingo and where not to stand. We heaped love on those new friends and encouraged them to trust us. Because Summit Valley Horse Center is a rescue and rehabilitation operation, its annual herd is a rotating collection of horses who have been neglected, abandoned, possibly even abused. These giants need our kindness, patience, and gentle attention. Show them that, and they will reciprocate. Show them that and they become whole again.

That first summer, Georgia and I worked with a variety of horses—Rain, Roxy, Flash, Patsy Cline. In green cowboy boots and work gloves tucked into the back of her jeans, she became a horse girl. She begged to go to the barn daily. At the end of the summer she had a riding lesson on Edgar, a white and brown Paint pony gelding who is part of the permanent herd. He is a docile, sweet love of a guy, and was a perfect horse for her to find her seat and learn handling skills.

In the time since, our summers are largely defined by our volunteer work. We arrive in the morning and often stay late into the afternoon. We catch horses, lunge them in the round pen, practice getting them in and out of the trailer, muck stalls, clean tack, and haul hoses around refilling water troughs. We leave dusty, dirty, smelling of horse, and deeply happy. Through the open windows of the car, we bid each horse goodbye as we pass them on our way to the ranch’s gate.

This past summer, Georgia worked almost exclusively with Tiny Tim, a 9-year-old pony with a star on his brown face and striped hooves. He’s young and full of fire, prone to nibbling if you give him the chance. She doesn’t give him that chance. She anticipates, she corrects, she works to understand him. She’s one of the few to saddle and ride him.

SVHC has been a gateway into exploring and activating a love of horses that runs so deep, it defines Georgia. Through her work with the horses, she has been granted trust and responsibility, not just from the animals to which she tends, but from the adults at the barn too. This winter, she’s been entrusted to spend a couple hours a week feeding and watering the ponies, exercising them three at a time in a large round pen, and leading them to their stalls to tuck them in for the night.

As our commitment to SVHC has grown, so has Georgia’s arsenal of “horse stuff:” helmets, riding pants, a Carhart jacket, work gloves, a horse encyclopedia, and always (always!) a pair of mucking boots in the hall. She’s learned the value of sweat equity (there’s nothing quite like a clean stall), and a pronounced sense of ownership and pride. In the fall, she was asked to become a youth board member for SVHC and she’s helping shape the youth programming for next summer. Georgia plans, in a couple years time, to begin teaching kids how to ride. And she continues to hope that, someday, she’ll have a horse to call her own.

This summer, a program that Georgia put into motion will debut. Called the Pony Posse, the classes will fill the need for more horse programming for 8+ year olds. The idea is to give this age group more experience with horses larger than minis. SVHC will use its four ponies—Edgar, Tiny, Annie, and Misty—for this hands-on class meant for individuals to gain experience in catching, haltering, leading, grooming, and desensitization. (Although no previous experience is required, it can be considered a next step for kids graduating from the Meet the Minis classes, which are designed for 4+ years and up with limited to no exposure to horses.)