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By Debbie Garcia-Bengochea
Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses
The Marion County (Fla.) School Board has unanimously approved equine education programs to begin immediately in all schools in the county for all ages. Therapy horse Magic from Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses was invited to the board meeting to witness the vote.
Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses is an award-winning 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity celebrating twenty-six years of service. They have been providing one-of-a-kind literacy programs in schools, libraries, and education resource centers for at-risk readers for over two decades in Florida. The charity has now been asked to officially bring Gentle Carousel’s Reading with Horses literacy programs into all elementary schools in Marion County, with a focus on kindergarten through third grade.
Individual Gentle Carousel horses have been featured in books by many different authors and publishers. When children complete one of those books at a school, the actual equine character from that story visits the classroom and brings the book to life. Gentle Carousel’s Reading with Horses has a far-reaching impact on young students, including helping them develop a compassionate relationship with animals.
“Children learn how to have empathy and practice kindness and caring for animals and humans, as well as develop their literacy skills through their experiences with Gentle Carousel’s Reading with Horses,” notes Barbara Hunter, Ph.D. Dr. Hunter teaches graduate courses in curriculum, instruction and assessment in literacy education, early childhood education, and socio-emotional learning.
“I believe that teaching children and adults to respect and love animals is important to both individuals and society. My volunteer literacy work with Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses continues my education path with children and adults and animals in Florida communities,” says Marcianna J. Basco, who has a Master’s of Education degree and licensure in remedial reading, developmental reading, and adult literacy. She is a longtime volunteer with Gentle Carousel’s Reading with Horses.
Debbie Garcia-Bengochea, best-selling author, filmmaker, former school principal, and co-founder of Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses, believes:
Children have a natural fascination with horses. Most of the students we meet inside schools and libraries have never touched a real horse before, but they want to! Reading a book about a horse and then becoming friends with the actual character from that book is something children will never forget. Not only does it build a positive association around reading, it helps build a foundation of compassion and respect for horses and all animals.
Two new books featuring horses from Gentle Carousel are scheduled to be released this fall. Can’t Get Enough Horse Stuff by National Geographic Kids Books and Second-Chance Horses: True Stories of the Horses We Rescue and the Horses Who Rescue Us by Revell Publishing will be included in Gentle Carousel’s 2023–24 school year programs.
In addition to the over forty public and private elementary schools Gentle Carousel has been asked to serve, each summer the therapy horses bring Gentle Carousel’s Reading with Horses to thousands of children in libraries and other locations across a dozen counties in Florida.
During summer reading programs, assisted living communities often join the children and parents to enjoy time with the horses. Children attending the reading programs are able to participate in an act of kindness by selecting stuffed horses to give to the assisted living residents in the audience. The children then each receive a free book from the therapy horses to take home.
During the first reading program of this summer, ninety-nine-year-old veteran and Gentle Carousel fan Don H. will arrive on a bus with his assisted living community. His wish is to take one of the therapy horses for a walk next to his wheelchair after the reading program is over. That wish will be granted!
While the Marion County School Board has approved Gentle Carousel’s reading programs in its schools, the costs for providing school programs and library programs are borne entirely by Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses. The charity does not receive funding from the school board and does not charge individual schools or libraries for these important programs. It also does not charge for hospital or hospice visits. Funding for upcoming visits and programs must be raised by the much-needed support of individual donors and business sponsors.
Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses