Garcia-Bengochea explained that when one of their volunteers, who are often retired education professionals, reads a story aloud and then the main character walks into a classroom, even the shy kids or tough kids or kids that think they’re too cool to pet a pony usually end up connecting to the animal in a genuine and heartfelt way. ENCOURAGING KINDNESS “Kids think deeply, but they’re not given a lot of credit for that,” said Garcia-Bengochea “Our reading programs are based on positive stories – rather than anti-bullying, they’re pro kindness, if you will. One was about our dogs and horses and the theme was, ‘just because we’re different doesn’t mean we can’t be friends’. It’s really a one-of-a-kind program, it’s very novel and different.” In addition to the reading program, some schools have implemented a program to encourage kindness, based on one of the books. Gentle Carousel has a miniature horse named Circus that has “leopard appaloosa” coloring, with spots like a dalmation dog. The book is called “Spots”, and in the story, every time a child does an act of kindness, like letting another child sit with them, a spot changes color. So by the end of the book, he’s all different colors. Now the school has a programwhere teachers hand out “spots” when kids are caught performing an act of kindness. “Then we bring the horse in and we have washable, non-toxic paints and they use one finger to paint a spot on Circus and say something kind about a classmate or teacher, and then that person comes up and says something nice about another person. It’s pro-kindness. They’re bringing spots to school for the kids to give to each other, and I think it’s helping teachers who might not be recognized either. We have certificates with a picture of Circus on them that say, “You’ve been spotted being kind”, and if a child earns one they can take Circus for a walk.” (They have double lead lines so that an adult can assist the child). BRINGING HORSES TO THE COMMUNITY While Ocala may be “the horse capitol of the world”, there are many children who live here who do not have access to horses. In addition to improving literacy, the program aims to connect children with horses and the equestrian community, potentially improving future employment prospects in the ever burgeoning equine industry. Garcia-Bengochea said, “There are so many job opportunities in this area with horses. We’re mainly doing the elementary schools; even though it’s the horse capital of the world the vast majority of children here have never touched a horse. In addition to the reading program, SUMMER SEASON 2023 | OCALA HORSE PROPERTIES 98 | OCALAHORSEPROPERTIES.COM To advertise Your Farm in this publication, please call (352) 615-8891 Therapy horse Mercury at a literacy program at the library.