A horse named Millie helps refugee students learn about their new community

How horses and kids are impacting each other

Karen Gustin explains how putting horses and kids together can be a very a successful learning opportunity.
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Karen Gustin explains how putting horses and kids together can be a very a successful learning opportunity.

NICHOLASVILLE — A horse named Millie is helping Abdul Alnajjar, David Rugazura and other refugee children at a Lansdowne Elementary summer camp learn about their new community.

Millie was rescued from a wild herd of horses in Knott County and since March has lived at the Kentucky Equine Humane Center, a rescue farm in Jessamine County. As part of the center’s education program called Take the Reins, about 20 students from the Lansdowne camp on Wednesday toured the facilities and met Millie, the horse that they have been fostering this summer, said Karen Gustin, the Executive Director of the Kentucky Equine Humane Center.

“They are eager to learn,” said Gustin.

When 15-month-old Millie was found with her herd, she could not walk and was emaciated. She is now healthy. The equine center takes in horses of any breed that are abused, neglected or abandoned or whose owners can no longer care for them.

Betty Simson, the Lansdowne camp director, said in talking to the refugee students, she connects the kindness and help that Millie received to the help that the refugee students are receiving as they become accustomed to Lexington.

Gustin said center staff has been going to Lansdowne once a week to make presentations on horses and to explain their horse rescue efforts. The refugee students created a story book about Millie. They painted horseshoe picture frames and had their photos taken with Millie.

“She’s very nice and good,” Abdul, a refugee from Syria about to enter the fifth grade at Lansdowne, said when he met Millie for the first time. He said he knew no English when he arrived about a year ago, but said he was continuing to learn at the camp this summer and in the Take the Reins program.

What does Abdul like about Lexington?

“Everything,” he said.

About 100 refugee children are enrolled at Lansdowne during the school year, said Page Harman, an English as a Second Language teacher.

At the school’s summer camp, refugee students learn English, counting and other basic skills, depending on their age. Students at the camp range in age from 4 to 13.

Harman said at the Equine Humane Center Wednesday, students were making connections between vocabulary words that they were learning in the camp such as “farm” and “equine” and seeing those things first hand.

David, a refugee from the Congo, who will be a sixth grader at Southern Middle School, said he had been in the United States about eight months. He said he used to live on a farm in Africa, so he had been around horses, but in Take the Reins he was learning what kind of equipment a horse needs and new words such as “harness.”

The Take the Reins program focuses on the importance of students giving back to the community, the importance of Kentucky’s horse industry, and the proper care of horses. It takes a hands-on approach and makes connections to many aspects of the child’s life, in and out of school, said Laura Schnettler , who volunteers in the center’s education program.

During the 2017-18 school year, classes at Lansdowne and Ashland elementary and Christ the King will begin participating in Take the Reins.

Generally, school classes focus on one horse for the year, take field trips to the center and to Alltech, a corporate sponsor of the program, where they learn about horse nutrition. Students have guest presenters from the equine industry speak to them.. The presentations and field trips are tailored to each individual school, and target fourth grade, where Kentucky history is taught. “Every aspect of horse rescue can apply to math, science, language arts,” said Gustin. “Any kind of project can be developed around this program that will fit into the schools’ curriculum.”

Gustin said she is currently looking for grant funding to keep Take the Reins going. Ultimately, she wants to hire an education specialist.

Two parents who were Syrian refugees visited the equine humane center Wednesday to learn about horses.. Hifiza Sousi and Duaa Helam said their young children are learning the alphabet at the Lansdowne Elementary summer camp and some words in English. Sousi said there is much to like in Lexington, the weather “the green grass, the trees and the people.”

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears