As the school bus pulls down our gravel driveway on the third day, our ‘friends’ excitedly anticipate riding a horse for the first time. In their stalls, Snudder and Vinur similarly anticipate the coming hour as Joy brushes the hard-earned dirt from their hides. Since the day begins with a photoshoot of each child with Snudder for their graduation certificates, Joy treats Snudder to a few extra squirts of Cowboy Magic: Super Bodyshine.
With photos done, we split into two groups: team Vinur and team Snudder. In each group, one ‘friend’ sits high upon his steed, while the rest play follow the leader as they hike behind. Honoring the title of leader, we allow each rider to dictate our path. At every intersection, we ask ‘left, right or straight?’ Even our shyest ‘friends’ are surprisingly decisive in pointing the way. For four minutes, each ‘friend’ weaves through trees in the arboretum, ventures down pine-needle paved paths, or strolls alongside the pond. No matter where we go, our ‘friend’ is connecting with his old friend Snudder in new ways.
Unlike the pony rides at the fair, this short ride is the culmination of many previous connections. In the fall, these children learned about grooming, bathing, and, most importantly, respecting our horses. During our three winter classroom visits, we reminded the children of our animals’ personalities and antics through our stories 9 More Mias, Vinur and the Goats, Fandi Needs a Doctor, and Flint’s Big Adventure. Fully illustrated with real pictures, all of these tell (mostly) true stories about the happenings on the farm. With these interactions and stories, our ‘friends’ develop an understanding of and friendship with our horses.
Given this, our ‘friends’ don’t view the horses as simple vehicles or toys, but instead as sentient beings, not too unlike ourselves. With this understanding comes empathy. One girl showed this quality as she, atop Vinur, watched the other group cross our path with Snudder. After calling out to her own friends, she noticed Vinur’s quickened pace, and so declared “he wants to catch up to his brother!”
Being able to relate to others’ feelings in this way is a skill that surely extends beyond our farm.