When I am asked about our program, I explain that we promote literacy (the obvious answer), but also that we are promoting empathy and respect for life, in hopes of making the world a better place. I don’t usually explain the last part in detail, although these are actually my primary goals.
Horses have been tremendous therapeutic helpers for a long time, not only through riding programs, but now minis are beginning to have more and more recognition as leader horses for the visually impaired and certified therapy animals in hospice, assisted living centers, etc.
With Clifford, we have potential for a powerful message. I know that kids might forget what I said, but they will never forget the day a horse came into their school or library. I have tailored my program to get them thinking about what might be going on in Clifford’s head. I ask, “How do you think he feels right now? What do you think he would say?”
Hopefully this engages whatever side of the brain where empathy lives. I want to fire up THOSE synapses.
People say money is the root of all evil. But I think the root of all evil lies in the lack of empathy.
I have come to realize, though, that kids learn best through observation. We can say the words, but it is what they see that really rings true to them. Kids are smart. When they see Clifford and me sharing a joke, when they see me talk to him like he is a person, behaving respectfully toward him, and him responding to the things I say, it launches the horse right out of the traditional “vehicle” role, and places him into the role of a living, thinking creature.
This is what I am after. I want the next generation to grow up knowing that all living creatures have a voice, if you only listen. I want them to have respect for each thing that walks or crawls or grows upon the earth. The next generation can change the world. This is where it can all start.