When I heard my daughter Janette talk about the problems she was having with the two underprivileged third-graders she was mentoring, I invited her to bring them out to the ranch where I work.
“Well, they’re scared of my golden retriever so they’ll probably be scared of your horse,” Janette responded.
The next day she messaged me that when she asked if they would like to visit the ranch both children were ecstatic.
“Trisha said ‘I’ve never seen a real horse before, that’ll be awesome!’” Janette wrote. “But we’ll see how badly they really want to go. I told them they had to watch their attitudes this week and get ALL of their homework assignments done. They ALWAYS have an incomplete for some reason or other.”
“OK well I’ll be at the ranch Saturday morning either way,” I replied.
Friday evening Janette called to say that for the first time that year both children had finished all of their homework and couldn’t have been better behaved.
Just as I finished my barn chores I saw them drive up. Janette introduced me to little Trisha and her friend Neil. They glanced at me with a quick “hi” but they were all eyes for Sport, the gelding I was grooming.
I’ve been working with horses for twenty years but it was so exciting for me to view Sport through the eyes of two children who until today had never been outside the city limits.
“Do you want to feel his soft muzzle?” I asked. Trisha nodded as Neil hesitated. I guided her hand to pet Sport gently and he pushed his nose into her hand. Her eyes sparkled at the feel of rich velvet on her skin.
“Can I?” Neil said.
I helped him pet Sport and then gave them each a treat to feed him, showing them how to keep their outstretched hands flat. Their grins widened as he accepted one and then the other, following up with a quick lick to Neil’s palm.
“Sport gave you a kiss!” I laughed. “Sport’s kisses are the best.”
They quickly got over their timidity and each took a brush and helped me groom him. They walked beside him, spellbound, as I walked him over to graze on his favorite clover patch.
“My mom says horses are the best secret-keepers,” Janette grinned, as she watched her mentees having the time of their lives.
Trisha looked at me and I nodded. She stepped up to Sport’s head and cupped his left ear to her lips, telling him of all her troubles while he ate away, just like I had already done earlier that morning.
Before we knew it time was up.
“Can we come again?” Trisha asked.
“Any time,” I smiled.
As they called their thanks to me on the way back to the car, Trisha and Neil kept glancing back at Sport. I hugged him tightly around his neck, thanking him myself for shining such light into their not-so-bright world.