Reining Warriors’ riding center not only supports healing of service members and first responders through an equine-assisted program, it also uses horses to empower young students with reading and math skills.
Through her Pony Tales program, owner Michelle Miller, is certified to teach reading and math skills to children in grades K-12 utilizing games, puzzles and horsemanship skills.
Pony Tales is described as “a horse-powered reading and tutoring program that provides a great resource combining equine-assisted learning with evidence-based reading strategies that engage the mind, body and emotions in learning.”
“We find out basically what [students] need help with,” Miller explained. “What they struggle with in school and then we let them choose the horse to work with. It’s kind of like the kid’s going into the library and choosing a book. It could be a book that’s too simple for them. It could be a book that’s too hard for them to read. It’s the same with the horses. It could be a horse that is too much for them to work with or not enough. And then we just convert that into real life. How would you deal with that? What do we need to do to fix that?”
Several of last fall’s students had never spent time around horses. For this reason, Miller, her daughter Haylee and volunteers use the riding center’s easily handled, “safe horses,” for the Pony Tales program. Before lessons begin, a brief training session is held on safety rules, how to lead a horse and other basics of horsemanship.
With Pony Tales, students are acquiring skills necessary to overcome their struggles in the classroom, “but the biggest thing they are gaining is confidence, life skills, how to comprehend [and] deal with problems in situations when they arise,” Miller said.
Obstacles in the arena serve as the setting for the student and horse to become partners. The child works through obstacles accompanied by the horse, also known as a “reading buddy,” during hour-long sessions.
“The horse participates with them, and the last 20 minutes – when we do reading tutoring – they go off into a place in the arena and they read to [the horse].” Miller explained. “So that gives them that practice. And the big thing is where you have children in school who can’t sit still … Here they don’t realize they are learning, they are having fun. It gets them out. It gets them moving. They are up, they are paying attention. And they love it!”
Last year’s Pony Tales featured imaginative games like the Alphabet Train Derailment, wherein foam letters were snapped together in sequential order with several letters taken out of sequence and scattered about the arena. A student must lead a horse to find the first misplaced letter, then snap it into alphabetical order and so forth.
For Sight Word Round-Up students build small corrals and label each with the number of letters in a sight word to be placed in each. Miller and volunteers write sight words containing three and four letters on ear tags typically used to identify cattle. Students must find these tags, pronounce the word marked on each and use it in a sentence before placing the tag in the appropriate corral.
“Basically, what we do is take what they would work with in school and adapt it to the arena with the horses,” Miller said. To learn more about Miller’s certification for the Pony Tales program, visit horsepoweredreading.com.
Reining Warriors Heavenly Gaits Therapeutic Riding Center is a nonprofit organization that provides hands-on support for servicemen and women, and first responders through a specific equine-assisted program.
At Reining Warriors, “Riding a horse is not the number one priority during our horsemanship program,” Miller noted. “In fact, a large majority of the teaching and learning is done on the ground. It’s about finding yourself through the horse. A horse mirrors your state of mind so it forces you to live in the moment so you are no longer focused on your problems.”
Reining Warriors’ fundraisers include an online auction as well as horsemanship and roping clinics. The nonprofit also raised funds in a concession booth at the Farmer’s Day horse show.
Support the efforts of Reining Warriors by sponsoring a veteran, making a tax-deductible contribution, volunteering time or referring a veteran/first responder.
The therapeutic riding center is located at 600 Hillsdale Road in Sinks Grove. Call 304-520-2315 for more information, visit Reining Warriors Facebook page or stop by just to say hello and watch the horses graze.
“We love to share our horses, and what they do for us, and what they provide to the community,” Miller said.
Theresa Flerx is an editor and reporter for The West Virginia Daily News family of newspapers and an author of books of nonfiction and fiction. She has a degree in Criminal Justice Law/Enforcement. Flerx has won awards from the West Virginia Press Association and WV Writers Inc. 2015 Writing Competition.