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  • joysilha

Small Hooves, Big Hearts

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

As I drove to meet Liz Delfs from My Little Horse Listener I wondered if her mini horses could bring support to refugee children who had escaped Afghanistan.

I volunteer for this free program offered by Liz and her husband Gary Clendenen, who take their small horses off-site to spend time with children or adults who might need comfort and healing.

Liz is passionate about giving back and I understood her mission, but I imagined this particular outing might be sad. We were bringing these horses to kids who left their life behind and had to resettle with their family in a new city, a new home and an entirely different culture. I was concerned we wouldn’t be able to offer the help they might need.

Boy, was I wrong.

The Afghan refugee children shrieked, laughed, and hopped from one foot to the other holding back their excitement at seeing these small horses. What are their names? (Thor and Hot Dog!) How old are the minis? (9 or 10) How do they get so small? (Breeding) Are they ponies? (No!) What do they eat? (Hay) Can they be ridden? (No!)

The kids were bursting with questions. I was touched by their curiosity and desire to learn. Kids really are the same all around the world.

Some children were bold and walked right up, petting the horses. One older boy told me about the big horse he missed back in Afghanistan. I could see in his eyes his sadness at leaving his horse but also the pride he felt in his ability to ride. I believe being with these small horses, gave him a chance to connect with a part of his past.

Some younger children held back, shrinking, not wanting to come close to the horses. But they were willing to take a chance and hold my hand, letting me guide them slowly and safely to pet the minis. Smiles never left their faces.

At one point Liz mentioned the horses were rescued from a circus. Silence and shrugged shoulders passed through the group. What’s a circus? She explained as best she could, but I doubt they understood the concept of a place where animals repeatedly perform tricks for an audience.

These children are learning English and are enrolled in Reading Quest, a free program led by Rayna Dineed. By making reading fun, Rayna and her team achieve amazing results in a very short time. The program lives up to it's tagline,"where reading becomes an exciting magical adventure." Not only do these kids learn to love books, but they gain strength and confidence to face challenges, which have been plenty in their short lives.

I left the session with a feeling I didn’t expect: “joy.” I thought I’d feel sad for these refugee kids, knowing the fear and destruction they witnessed and the grief they must feel. I was also concerned about the future challenges they face.

Instead, I saw curious children with eyes wide open, anxious for a new experience, a chance to laugh and let go.

Yea, small hooves, big hearts. I underestimated the joy these mini horses with big hearts can bring.

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