The anxious child fell silent at the prospect of pronouncing the first word in the book she held in her trembling hands. The tiny brown horse beside her, restless and even younger than his small partner, stopped fidgeting and quietly waited. And waited. The young reader tried to sound out the letters in a barely discernible whisper and the little horse moved his head closer, straining to hear. Finally, it was all too much. The little girl gave up and immediately received a reassuring hug from her reading teacher, who told her that she was very brave to try.
A young boy, smart and lovely in the way a 9-year-old child can be, really liked the little gray horse. He came back to see his horse, week after week, and read his one favorite book over and over again. His special horse didn’t care if the words were halting and unsure. The horse was always happy to see him and listened patiently until the last page of a book he had heard many times before. His mother said that her son was severely dyslexic and he never wanted to read a book, until he met the little gray horse.
Another little girl stood alone, keeping her distance from the others in her group who were visiting from a summer camp program. And then she and the diminutive donkey, Serafina, met each other. The donkey was a newcomer to the horse pen and was trying to find her own way with her new equine companions. For the girl and the donkey, it was love at first sight. Neither wanted to let the other go, and the child found a new friend whose deep brown eyes communicated a wordless understanding.
Welcome to the world of My Little Horse Listener, where such quiet miracles are a common occurrence.
The program began a year ago and has quickly gained popularity with local reading and social service agencies. It was designed to provide a judgment-free read-aloud opportunity for children with reading insecurities who otherwise might not willingly allow anyone to hear the sound of their halting voice as they struggled through a page. Successful adults who experienced difficulty in reading aloud as children often still vividly recall humiliating classroom experiences from decades earlier. This program was conceived to create different kinds of memories.
My Little Horse Listener is a completely free program for children ages 6 to 12. Children come to the horse’s home, where they settle into a comfortable rocking chair in a courtyard in a forest-like setting. The horse, accompanied by a handler from the program, stands behind or in front of the child, while he or she reads. Every child must be accompanied by a parent, teacher or guardian.
The miniature horses are also available for site visits to local schools, where children take turns reading books to the horses. They have recently expanded their repertoire to include posing as models for young art students in a Santa Fe public school.
For more information or to make an appointment, please see www.mylittlehorselistener.com or call (505) 455-9209.
Elizabeth Delfs, a corporate attorney, founded and directs My Little Horse Listener with her husband Gary Clendenen, a retired business professor who is active in local community organizations.