Seven-year-old Mark Howard smiles after reaching his hand in the air to touch a horse which is looking right at him as it moves to the front of its stall.
Seven students at Martha Jane Potter Elementary School have been eagerly looking forward to the chance to see their favorite horses at The Stables at Creekside Glen in Partridge since their last visit in December.
“It is a relationship that is an unspoken bond between a horse and those students,” said Linda Hall, principal of MJP. “The socialization is not with each other, it is with the horses.”
The group of students was chosen to receive hippotherapy, which can improve cognitive, psychological, behavioral and communication functions. Hippotherapy is targeted for those with autism, developmental delays, learning or language disabilities and traumatic brain injuries. People with cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis can also benefit from hippotherapy.
“There’s something magical about a horse,” said Hall. “A horse has that sixth sense.”
Drew and Leah Baldwin, directors of The Stables at Creekside Glen, spent Thursday morning helping students groom and ride the horses.
“We found that kids that didn’t want to listen to direction or tell us their stories, if you give them a brush they will tell you their life story,” said Leah Baldwin. “It kind of breaks down some walls and barriers.”
Leah Baldwin said she can notice that the children have become more comfortable with being around the stables since she first met them in November.
“When they first came a lot of them were really quiet and now they talk more,” she said.
The Baldwins take their time with each student and make sure everyone gets to ride the horses.
“The horse is relational in the sense of being able to care for something and it carries on in other life circumstances,” said Drew Baldwin.
He said it is important to introduce the students to new things and expand their horizons.
“They’re not limited in what they can do,” said Drew Baldwin.
He said seeing the children smile is his favorite thing about the pilot program.
“They have become like a family,” said Drew Baldwin. “We love when they come.”
Ashley Bentley, an instructional assistant at MJP, said she and other teachers talk about the horses with the students at school to help them learn.
“It has a very calming effect on the children,” said Bentley. “It builds confidence. We try to encourage them with this field trip.”
Hall said the program is a way to refocus students.
“If they become unfocused we can go back and talk about their horse,” said Hall. “Even just saying wonder what Star is doing or what would Coco think if you didn’t finish your lesson.”
Their classmates have heard all about “Cowboy Drew” and their favorite horses, Star, Crystal and Coco.
“All they do is talk about the horses when they get back to school,” said Bentley.
Logan Wynn, 10, said his favorite part about the trip is to be able to ride and feed the horses.
Matthew Wilder, 6, said he likes visiting the stables “because it’s awesome.” He thinks the horses are funny and cute.
Teresa Pigman, an instructional assistant at MJP, said it has been amazing to watch the students grow.
“Mark has just blossomed,” said Pigman. “He couldn’t wait to go back to school and tell the kids about the horses.”
Mattie Collins, an instructional assistant at MJP, said students learn a socialization skill of how to treat horses and others.
“It all goes back to love and bonding,” said Collins. “Just being there is a blessing.”
She said the Baldwins serve as role model to the students.
“It’s an experience without Drew and Leah’s opportunity they provide to this area, those students would never get to experience without the stables,” said Hall. “It’s very special. I think the whole community needs to take advantage of these services.”
Leah Baldwin said she and her husband, who are originally from Nashville, Tenn., would like to become more involved in the community and teach more children how to care for horses. They also offer riding lessons, trail rides and wagon rides. They plan on having camps this summer.
The Stables at Creekside Glen is a part of Meridzo Center Ministries based in Lynch.
“We’re just here to serve the community and hopefully share Jesus Christ with them,” said Leah Baldwin.
To make an appointment to visit The Stables at Creekside Glen, call the Baldwins at 606-633-9680.