Welcoming youth to the calming world of horses

Sep 24, 2020 | Features, Lake Arrowhead

By Mary-Justine Lanyon

Lake Arrowhead resident Laura Miller has found a way to combine two of her greatest passions: teaching and horses.

She has been teaching for 28 years and is now an itinerant speech pathologist with the Rim of the World Unified School District. She had previously taught at both the elementary and middle school level.

Her love of horses began when she was just 6 and started riding. By age 10 she had her first horse. She has had horses in Lake Arrowhead for that last 11 years – Bo, a 26-year-old gelding, and Boogie, a 19-year-old miniature horse.

Miller approached Pastor Bill Stanley of the Lake Arrowhead Community Presbyterian Church with the idea of offering horse therapy to the children and youth of the church.

“I think horses are calming and comforting for everyone,” Miller said. “There is just something so majestic about them. When you look into their eyes, it’s like you can see their soul.”

She added that she actually likes to groom the horses better than she likes to ride them these days.

“When I am out with them, I forget everything else going on and just focus on them and their needs. You can’t be distracted when it comes to horses.

You have to pay complete attention to everything you are doing and what is going on around you or you can get hurt or, in my opinion worse yet, the horse can get injured.”

Miller thought that, with the children and youth of the church having been at home since March due to COVID-19, this would be the perfect time to introduce them to her horses.

The first gathering was for youth in grades four through six.

Before they walked down to the arena where Bo and Boogie were waiting for them, Miller talked with them about proper etiquette around horses. Do not run up to a horse, she cautioned, and never approach them from behind.

“Horses are prey animals and herd animals. They are always on alert,” Miller told the youngsters. “If one spooks, they all spook.”

She handed out sheets with the parts of the horse identified and reviewed it with the students.

They then followed her down the path to the arena. Miller demonstrated how to lead a horse – always on the left. She warned the students not to loop the lead rope around their hands; their fingers could get caught and injured.

The youngsters then took turns leading Bo and Boogie around the arena with the help of Miller and her daughter, Lauren Blankenship.

After each student who wished to do so had had a turn, Miller and Blankenship led the horses to the barn where they instructed the youngsters on how to groom them.

It’s important, Miller explained, if two people want to groom a horse that they stay on the same side of the animal. That way, should the horse move, he won’t bump into them.

“Always be aware of where his feet are,” Miller said. And, she instructed, brush the hair in the same direction as it grows.

After all the students had had a chance to brush either Bo or Boogie, Miller demonstrated how to clean Bo’s hoof. As she patted his shoulder, he lifted his foot, which she held in her hand. Then, using a special tool, she cleaned out any sand or pebbles.

Why is this important, Miller queried? “The horse could get an infection. If anything gets in a horse’s hoof, it can affect their balance.”

After some of the students practiced cleaning the two horses’ hooves, they had a chance to feed Bo and Boogie some food pellets.

“Be sure to hold your hand out flat,” Miller said. “If you hold your thumb up, they might think it’s a carrot!”

In addition to the pellets, Bo gets a bale of hay each week.

At future classes, the students will be able to ride the horses but Miller felt it was important for them to learn about the horses first.

“I really hope this program brings a lot of comfort and joy to these kids,” Miller said. “They are going through so much with all the changes in the world right now and they need a distraction from all the stress.

“I also hope it helps build their confidence, learning how to handle a 1,000-pound animal.”



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